Day 11 of the season previews, and we’re up to the Cronulla Sharks – a side that have boosted their squad significantly for 2013, but can they perform and gel together quickly enough to challenge for the title, or are they still a couple of years away from mounting a serious challenge even with their revamped squad?
The Cronulla Sharks are undoubtedly, a team on the rise in the NRL – with potential to go far and do big things, provided they play as a unit, gel as a unit, and don’t rely solely on 1-2 players to get the job done week in and week out.
Sporting somewhat of a new look side in 2013, following the additions of Luke Lewis, Chris Heighington, Beau Ryan, Michael Gordon and youngsters Alipate Ratini and Tupou Sopoaga, the Sharks are destined for potentially, a very solid season in 2013.
As is the case with any team that buys a few top-line players for any season, the question immediately arises – how quickly will they fit into the Sharks side and can the side as a whole gel quickly enough?
This is what makes the Sharks very similar to the Panthers heading in 2013 – given the heavy recruitment in a couple of key areas, whether or not the new players need time to adjust to their new roles in 2013 or whether they come bursting out of the blocks early, remains to be seen.
Regardless of what your opinion of the Sharks is, it must be said that they have a very good side on paper. Barring injury, they sport one of the most exciting fullbacks in the NRL in Michael Gordon, a supercoach favourite, who is able to have an effect on games that can alter them drastically and lead to a Sharks win.
Gordon, who has so far played the majority of his NRL career on the wing (he was previously with the Panthers), will be an x-factor if you will for the Sharks, as he may take some of the pressure of the likes of Todd Carney and Jeff Robson with his explosive runs and dynamic ability from the back – whether that be in general or from kick-returns.
If Gordon can stay on the field throughout 2012 and not miss too many games through injury, the Sharks will possess an additional weapon – one that will have the ability to cause problems for opposition defences.
Another key factor for the Sharks, as you can guess, is that of Todd Carney. At the moment, there’s the whole will he or won’t he debate raging on, as he recovers from an Achilles tendon injury sustained last year.
With Sharks coach Shane Flanagan saying he’s in doubt but Todd Carney himself eager to play and saying ‘pick me’, it remains to be seen whether the star five-eighth will indeed start in Rd 1.
Some Sharks fans were somewhat critical of Carney over the course of the year and whilst he played quite well overall, standing out in a few games in particular – inconsistency did creep into Carney’s games at times, an area that he still has to improve on.
With all the pressure placed on him in 2012, there were times when it seemed he could not cope with that pressure – resulting in games and instances where he wasn’t at his best.
When in form, Carney is an elite five-eighth, and whilst it may take him a few rounds to get back to his best as he returns from injury – no-one doubts that when he does, he will play a major factor in any charge the Sharks make to the grand final.
With one star half in Carney, comes a more unheralded half in Jeff Robson, who has been around the traps and seems to have found a home with Cronulla.
Robson is by no means a superstar, but he’s the sort of half that you know what you’re going to get from him, you know that he’ll play his heart out every game and you know that he’ll do what he can in a game, to ensure that you get the victory.
His partnership with Todd Carney will prove one of the keys for the Sharks, as they look to make 2013 their premiership winning year.
No season preview on the Sharks is complete without a paragraph talking solely about the effect that back-rower Paul Gallen has on the team in general, his team-mates and the fans.
Gallen, a Sharks icon and legend (evidenced by the number of games he’s played for them and set to become 2nd most capped Shark over the course of the year), is loved and revered by Sharks fans for many reasons.
Leading from the front as a captain both on and off the field, Gallen gets through a mountain of work every game and never seems to tire, as he sets the tone for what he expects from his team-mates.
What will be interesting in 2013, however, is how Gallen is managed over the course of the year by Flanagan. The representative back-rower isn’t getting any younger, and with both State of Origin and the Rugby League World Cup coming up later this year, whether Gallen ends up playing 80 minutes every game would appear doubtful – something that as the fans will have to wait patiently for.
The one major key for me, however, will be Beau Ryan.
Coming off a career best year for the Wests Tigers before his move in 2012, Ryan finally appeared to find the necessary balance when juggling his footy commitments and his Footy Show commitments.
With his overall workload off the field likely to increase, the key for Ryan will be to continue juggling it all – something that may well be easier said than done.
As a player coming off a career best year, it’s always hard to replicate that form the next year as many players have found out in the past, but with the talent Ryan has and what he has shown, it’s a very good possibility that he emulates his 2012 success.
Injuries are common for any side, and the Sharks received a blow with news that star prop Bryce Gibbs was out for at least the first few rounds of the season, after picking up a calf injury in the trials.
Gibbs, who was one of the top performers from the Sharks will be missed at the start of the year, with the veteran prop providing solid go-forward when needed and taking the load of of Gallen at times.
With Gibbs out, and a starting spot up for grabs, one would imagine that it’ll come down to the likes of Ben Ross, Jon Green and Mark Taufua to tussle for that spot come Rd 1.
Which prop would you start in place of Gibbs for the first few rounds?
Overall, the Sharks have a very handy side on paper following their new additions and if they can play with the right attitude, gel together quickly and play to their ability on the field, they may be a real force in 2013 and cause some problems for the likes of Melbourne, Canterbury, Souths, etc.
Two players that are lesser known that I’d like to point out quickly is firstly, Ricky Leutele. Leutele, who has been in and out of the Sharks side at times found a home in the centres towards the end of last year and made the most of his opportunities – with the young gun performing well and consistently, remaining a very strong chance of playing first-grade off the bat.
Quick, deceptive and a great all-round player, Leutele is a fan favourite at the club and very few would be disappointed if he was to make the first-grade side in Rd 1.
Secondly, Michael Lichaa. Regarded as one of the best young prospects to come out of the Sharks, Lichaa might only be young, but he has all the skills and tools you want out of an emerging young hooker.
Highly talked about by Sharks fans, he might be one to watch out for the in the future for a potential berth in first-grade, should the opportunity arise.
With the wraps on him and the way he’s been playing over the last couple of years, you would imagine that a first-grade debut might not be too far away.
1. Michael Gordon
2. Beau Ryan
3. Ricky Leutele
4. Jonathan Wright
5. Stewart Mills
6. Todd Carney/Chad Townsend
7. Jeff Robson
8. Andrew Fifita
9. Issac De Gois
10. Ben Ross
11. Chris Heighington
12. Luke Lewis
13. Paul Gallen (C)
14. John Morris
15. Wade Graham
16. Mark Taufua
17. Jon Green