Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 4: Cronulla Sharks

It would be an understatement to say that 2014 was a tough year for the Cronulla Sharks. The ASADA scandal, injuries, some poor form and constant off-field disruptions throughout the year, all of which weighed heavily on the players. With that all behind them now and with a new CEO, the return of coach Shane Flanagan and several quality recruits, 2015 shapes to be an uprising of a year for the Sharks.

With the downs and hard times the club faced in 2014, there was upside – even if some may not choose to see it. The emergence of young players like Valentine Holmes and Jacob Gagan brought a smile for the fans and to complement that, they both performed admirably when given the chance. That, coupled with the usual form of their veterans, meant that despite the turbulent off-field matters that plagued the club, the players belief, heart and character remained at a high level.

With all the talk surrounding any side based around the club’s core, the Sharks strengthened this area with the signings of Ben Barba (five-eighth) & Michael Ennis (hooker). The signing of Ennis especially helps the club, who will bring leadership, experience, dogged determination and poise to the club. With veteran forwards like Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita at the club as well as future captain Wade Graham, the leadership core at the club is in good hands.

Of that core, the player under the most pressure is undoubtedly new recruit, Ben Barba. It was well documented in 2014 that his overall form was poor and that he was not at his best, which ultimately prompted a move away from Brisbane. With criticism flying his way left, right and centre from fans, the media and across the NRL, it weighed heavily on the former Dally M medallist. Despite all that, he had glimpses of good form after a move to five-eighth and with a move to a new club in the Sharks, he starts anew and has a chance to once again make a name for himself.
The question is, just how long will it take him to hit peak form?
His arrival has been well received among the fans and they will be hoping that he can provide the spark in their attack to help propel them towards a top eight spot.

Another interesting aspect of the Sharks side is how the rd 1 back-line will look. With only two centre spots available, the likes of Ricky Leutele, Jack Bird, Gerard Beale and Kyle Stanley are all battling it and stating their cases to be selected come the first game of the season. Each one brings something different to the table and each Sharks fan will have a different opinion on the exact make-up of the back-line. Whoever does get selected will have deserved it but they will have to remember that talented players are waiting in the wings, ready to make the most of their potential opportunities.

With a lot of unknowns still associated with the club, there are many known factors both on and off the field and in terms of the Sharks 2015 chances, one thing is for certain – they will play with determination, heart and commitment. The Sharks have built a reputation on that sort of style and with the talent at their disposal across the park, the club can achieve great things in 2015. Whilst they may not go all the way, they are not a team to take lightly, especially with the creative elements the club now possesses.

Best Recruit: One of the best young talents coming through the St George Illawarra ranks, big things have long been expected of Jack Bird. Since his move to the Sharks this pre-season, he has put the afterburners on and made a claim to a starting role with some quality performances during both the NRL Auckland Nines and the trial games so far. Not your average back-rower, the talented Bird has a lot going for him and whilst he may not be the biggest forward, he uses football smarts and game awareness to make the most of his abilities. Equally at home in the centres or even at five-eighth, Bird possesses the creative ability to not only get outside his man but also to set up opportunities for his wingers and team-mates. With the battle on for a first-grade spot in the centres, to pick Bird would not be a bad idea at all given his ability and just how good he can become.

Most Promising Talent A young gun that is perhaps only known to Sharks fans at this stage, big things are expected of Josh Addo-Carr. A big, mobile utility back, Addo-Carr knows his way to the try-line and has impressed in recent seasons for the Sharks Holden Cup side. Playing on the wing more than anything else, he uses his size and speed to outdo the defenders and often proves a handful to deal with when he has the ball in hand. Whilst a first-grade opportunity is not necessarily on the horizon in the immediate future, he has the ability to make it into the top grade in seasons to come. It will not be a matter of if he will make it but when he makes it.

2015 Gains: Ben Barba (Brisbane Broncos), Gerard Beale (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jack Bird (St George Illawarra Dragons), Mitch Brown (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Jayson Bukuya (New Zealand Warriors), Michael Ennis (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Saulala Houma (Sydney Roosters), Todd Murphy (2015), Sami Sauiluma (Canberra Raiders) & Kyle Stanley (St George Illawarra Dragons).

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