Loyal fans, an ageing team but a committed one. That, in a nutshell, sums up the Cronulla Sharks.
After winning a maiden premiership in 2016, the Cronulla Sharks were flying high. Their fans were jubilant and the club, after all the turmoil, was on top of the world.
Although 2017 was certainly no failure given their finals appearance, the Sharks would have expected more. Was it the ageing squad that caught up with them? Or had they simply taken a backwards step as other teams leapfrogged ahead of them?
The Gallinator and his replacement
You have to wonder just how he does it but Paul Gallen is set to go around yet again in season 2018. He might be ageing but he has lost none of his spring or step, producing consistently good numbers for several seasons on end now.
As he winds down, however, the question Sharks fans will ask is just who will be the man to replace him? Will Gallen be a mentor to them as his own minutes decrease? Or will the replacement be thrust into first-grade and expected to stand on their own two feet?
Many Sharks fans and media pundits believe that the replacement will be Billy Magoulias. Gallen-line in many of his traits, he has all the skills in his arsenal to succeed. However, as we all know, many great young players have come and gone, unable to cope with the NRL and its physicality. Is Magoulias the man to replace Gallen?
The Fullback Conundrum
Depth in rugby league is good but can you have too much depth? Can multiple players vying for one spot in the eyes of many be a detriment or a hindrance rather than a good thing?
If there is one thing that the Sharks are blessed with for 2018, it is an abundance of fullbacks. Valentine Holmes, Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan.
Although the decision already seems to be made as per reports from numerous media outlets and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan, bare with us in this during this section as we dissect the three primary candidates.
If we start with Matt Moylan. Joining the club from the Penrith Panthers for this season, Moylan is a player that many NRL fans have a love-hate relationship with. You quite literally either love him or you hate him.
His ability is uncanny and he has impressed many fans over the years as a result of it. His ball-playing skills have allowed him to accrue countless try assists and line-break assists over the years, more than the other two fullback candidates.
You certainly can’t go wrong with Moylan at fullback and he has had success there in the past. However, in a team that needs to replace the departure of James Maloney, it may be better suited to play him in the halves despite his dominance over the others at fullback.
If you move onto the likes of both Dugan and Holmes, whilst they are sound fullbacks in their own right, the consensus is that neither has the required ball skills to be successful in the role.
Whoever you do pick, all three are capable players and all three have showcased their skills in the past.
Shane Flanagan. The coach that led the Cronulla Sharks to the promised land once. Can he do it again?
The long, tough journey started at the back end of the 2010 season. Thrust into the role after the resignation of Ricky Stuart, the early going was tough for Flanagan.
Slowly but surely, things improved. By 2012, the Sharks were back in the top eight and they were consistently building with several shrewd signings. Then, as we all know, the big moment came in 2016. The crowning glory, the creme de la creme, the greatest achievement. A maiden Cronulla Sharks premiership.
Putting that aside for a second, however, what about the man himself and his conduct as Sharks coach? Winning a premiership is as much about the coach as it is the players but what makes him a good coach or the right coach? Alternatively, what makes him a polarising figure that many opposition fans simply do not like?
Is it really worth the effort to publicly lambast and criticise a refereeing performance? Such outbursts drew the ire of many opposition fans who felt it was unnecessary and unjustified. With that in mind, is the honesty refreshing? Is Flanagan simply taking a leaf out of the coaching manual and voicing his view on how something panned out?
The consistent results of late more than speak for themselves despite some potentially insensitive outbursts, it is easy to see why Sharks fans love him as their head coach. He is able to galvanise his players and have them all playing the style of footy that suits the team, just like he is able to steer the ship and lead from the front.
Is he good enough to lead the side to glory yet again and furthermore, is the club good enough to attain the glory yet again? Time will tell but you would have to be a brave better to say that the Sharks will not push for the title yet again in 2018.
Gains and Losses
Gains: Scott Sorenson (Canberra Raiders), Matt Moylan (Penrith Panthers), Braden Uele (North Queensland Cowboys), Aaron Gray (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Josh Dugan (St George Illawarra Dragons) & Ava Seumanufagai (Wests Tigers).
Losses: Gerard Beale, Jack Bird, Fa’amanu Brown, Manaia Cherrington, Adam Clydsdale, Jordan Drew, Chris Heighington, Jeremy Latimore, James Maloney, Daniel Mortimer, Sam Tagataese, Jayden Walker & Tony Williams.
Player to Watch
This one is likely to be a no-brainer and despite our earlier wraps on Billy Magoulias above, he is not the man we are set to mention here.
Sharks fans would guess it straight away and the player on the tip of their tongues is Kyle Flanagan.
The son of coach Shane Flanagan, the live-wire and enigmatic half is coming off a year to remember. Although his Holden Cup side was unable to go the distance and win the premiership this year, his numbers were truly remarkable as was his consistency.
Just to put it in some perspective; he broke a long-standing Holden Cup record for the most points scored in one season with 20 tries and 140 goals totalling 360 points.
That is not even mentioning his exorbitantly high try assist and line-break assist tallies in 2017, proving that he was the catalyst for the Sharks attacking fortunes.
His stellar 2017 aside, many Sharks fans have him pinned as the next long-term half for the club and so they should. His ability is remarkable and although he faces further tests should he move into the Intrust Super Premiership ranks, Sharks fans are confident that he can excel at that level also.
Although a first-grade opportunity may not beckon straight away, he is too good to keep out long-term and if injury strikes, he is likely to be the first cab off the rank. That will be a proud moment for Sharks fans and particularly for coach Shane Flanagan.
Predicted 2017 line-up
- Valentine Holmes
- Sosaia Feki
- Josh Dugan
- Ricky Leutele
- Jesse Ramien
- Matt Moylan
- Chad Townsend
- Andrew Fifita
- Jayden Brailey
- Matt Prior
- Luke Lewis
- Wade Graham
- Paul Gallen (C)
14. James Segeyaro
15. Ava Seumanufagai
16. Kurt Capewell
17. Braden Uele
Coach: Shane Flanagan.