You only have to look at the NRL Results for the Cronulla Sharks this year and you can see them settled high on the NRLÂ Table. Battle hardened under Ricky Stuart, the physical and committed Sharks have improved ever so slightly from 2007 and it’s more than enough to get them over the line consistently – even without the likes of Ben Ross and Paul Gallen.
Cronulla Sharks fans must be in raptures, they’ve gone through a tough period and had problems attracting everything from quality players, to regular fans at home games and even coaches at various stages. From those heighty days of Mat Rogers, ET and David Peachey lighting up Toyota Park for the local fans who would rock on over to Carmens after a good win, but things started going down hill quickly for the Shire side.
The coaching revolving door kicking in, with hardliner Chris Anderson taking over from John Lang and eventually getting booted for local boy Stuart Raper. The likeable Raper had a tough time with the players at his disposal and couldn’t get the side to be consistent. Crowds walked, results stunk and the club was probably lucky to hang on to some sponsors during this period.
It’s been a long rebuilding process for Cronulla, but their blueprint should be looked at closely and used by other sides that go through tough times. The first building block of any club should start with the coach. Putting aside the back office and financial support that clubs require – the results start from the employment of a quality, respected coach.
When Ricky Stuart fell out with Nick Politis and the Sydney Roosters, the Sharks were very astute in nabbing the promising coach. Stuart, already a premiership winner at a young age was moulded by the experienced Phil Gould and had a head on his shoulders years above his age. Not only was Stuart a good coach, he had the respect of the best players in the competition and had big pulling power.
Ricky Stuart and his influence were there for all to see last year, while the Sharks didn’t make the NRL Top 8 – they had solid, scrambling defence and punched well above their playing weight. Had a few golden point and 2 point matches gone their way, they were Top 4 for sure.
Fast forward to 2008. The Sharks have worked on things, improved the system and are getting home in the close games. Impressive defence and a committed group of players has the team well and truly on the rise, while we don’t want to jinx the boys – their profile is quickly rising in NRL ranks. Anthony Tupou earlier this week signed on with the Sharks to play under former coach Ricky Stuart – a massive NRL signing coup, considering the Roosters and Manly were chasing the explosive backrower big time. Adding Anthony Tupou to an already sparkling backrow of Paul Gallen and Greg Bird gives the Sharks their much needed spark and creativity in attack. Tupou has one of the best second phase games in the NRL and will naturally give the Sharks the unpredictability they need to get more linebreaks.
Late yesterday there was talk that the Sharks could be involved in a deal swap involving Brett Kimmorley going to the Dragons in exchange for the maligned Jason Ryles. Many have been critical of Ryles in recent times, but the former Australian forward has impressive statistics regardless and providing he remains fit – he is a prominent player that can get the job done. The other reason for the deal swap is salary cap pressure, the Sharks are flying close to the wind and need to possibly offload Ben Ross to get some breathing space in the bank.
Ross has been a solid performer but obviously his discipline has strained relations with the club and they are keen to offload him to an interested Hull side in the UK Super League.
Everything is working like clockwork for the boys in blue at the moment, the only item remaining on their checklist for 2008 is a much craved premiership – something the Sharks are yet to pull off since entering the Rugby League world in 1967.