It was a rather inconsistent season in 2020 for the Cronulla Sharks that had fans pulling their hair out but can they reverse their fortunes in 2021?
Their task will not be any easier to begin the season with uncertainties in some positions and losing Shaun Johnson for the opening third.
Johnson suffered a season-ending Achilles injury at the back end of last season and his loss will be felt in spades come the start of the 2021 season.
In his absence, others will need to step up but who can put their name on the map?
Johnson is out so who is ready to take his place?
The loss of Shaun Johnson for the better part of the season cannot be understated.
A perennial superstar, Johnson’s ability to read the play, dictate the game, and create opportunities is among the elite halves of the competition.
Producing stellar numbers in both try assists and line engagements, it will be up to some emerging halves to stake their claims but just who is ready for that?
With Chad Townsend seemingly having one halves position sewn up, the battle will be on between Braydon Trindall and Connor Tracey.
Both have shown glimpses of what they can be but filling in here and there is very different from playing week in and week out.
Of course, one other option is Matt Moylan. The talented utility struggled with injury in 2020 and played few games but fit and raring to go, is he an option?
Able to play fullback as well, the conundrum is there for the Sharks as to whether or not Moylan will slot into the custodian role or the halves.
2021 – The Year of the Contract Renewal
The Sharks have the most players, of any team, coming off contract in 2021.
Combine that with the salary cap penalty coming off and it appears that a clean-out may be looming. The signing of Cam McInnes for 2022 seems to confirm this.
Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan, and Aaron Woods are under the most pressure to perform.
With a change of direction in mind, the Sharks will simply not just renew these deals at their inflated prices.
Changes will be made.
The question is whether any of these three will be able to play up to their price tag values and pick up a similar amount at Cronulla or another club?
If they do, they will be assisting the Sharks 2021 season in the process.
Is it make or break for John Morris?
It was a bit of a tough year for the Sharks and thus for coach John Morris in season 2020 but 2021 is a chance to start anew.
Despite all that, the pressure will be on Morris to get the best out of this team, particularly as the season starts with the absence of key half Shaun Johnson.
With emerging talents and good, experienced players at their disposal to guide the younger ones, the club as a whole needs to step up.
As other teams get stronger, the Sharks have made only the one acquisition, seemingly relying on the production of the kids coming through their ranks.
Investing in youth can be a dangerous yet worthwhile approach, as the Sharks hope to see the likes of Rudolf, Hamlin-Uele and Ronaldo Mulitalo perform even better in 2021.
Player to Watch
Proving that they can produce good, young forwards to make their mark, the Sharks will be hoping that Franklin Pele can do the same.
A hulking and imposing forward in the mold of someone like Junior Paulo, Pele has been at the Sharks since the U16’s and has come through the ranks.
In the club’s top 30, Pele has impressed not only the Sharks faithful but also management, as he goes from strength to strength as a player.
His size can only be beneficial to a Sharks side arguably lacking in game-breaking forwards.
He may not start in round 1 but Pele will be a player to look out for as the season wears on.
Cronulla Sharks Gains and Losses
2021 gains: Jonaiah Lualua and Jack Martin (both 2021). Aiden Tolman (Canterbury Bulldogs) and Luke Metcalf (Manly Sea Eagles.
2021 losses: Jayson Bukuya and Cameron King (both retired).
NRL News Predicted Team at full strength
- Will Kennedy
- Ronaldo Mulitalo
- Jesse Ramien
- Josh Dugan
- Sione Katoa
- Matt Moylan
- Shaun Johnson
- Aaron Woods
- Blayke Brailey
- Braden Hamlin-Uele
- Siosifa Talakai
- Wade Graham (C)
- Toby Rudolf
- Braydon Trindall
- Aiden Tolman
- Andrew Fifita
- Briton Nikora