Cronulla- Sutherland Sharks
Record (W-L-D): 14-10-0
Top Point scorer: Michael Gordon (164 points)
Top Try scorer: Valentine Holmes (16 tries)
Not a lot was expected from the Cronulla Sharks in the 2015 season as the club looked to rebuild following the wash up from the ASADA investigation, however the club proved the critics wrong with a strong year. The team found themselves on the edge of the top four before finishing in sixth position at the end of round 26, exceeding all expectations and exciting fans once again, following last year’s wooden spoon.
The Sharks had many positive results, perhaps best highlighted by their victories over the eventual minor premiers the Sydney Roosters on both occasions the two sides met. The Sharks also impressively beat Grand Finalists North Queensland Cowboys twice during the preliminary rounds. The Shire side showed a strong ability to throw even the best sides in the competition off their game as they ground their way to victory. They also showed an ability to score big wins by demolishing the Tigers 40-18 and then sending the Rabbitohs packing in the first week of the Finals via a 28-12 score line.
The season did start poorly for Cronulla who began 2015 with four straight losses, causing unrest among fans and angst for coach Shane Flanagan. The fourth round loss to the Titans was particularly devastating having all but won the game before an intercept by Gold Coast’s Kevin Gordon cost the two competition points. The Sharks however would bounce back the next round against the Roosters and would only lose consecutive games once more during the season. They did however suffer a costly loss in round 26 to Manly at home, costing the side a top four finish.
One of the keys to Cronulla’s positive season was the NRL buy of the year in hooker Michael Ennis. ‘The Menace’ was pivotal to Cronulla’s rise, taking pressure off halves Jeff Robson and Jack Bird with a solid kicking game and adding extra impotence near the try line. His clever dummy half work was particularly enjoyed by Luke Lewis, who scored a number of tries through the work of his number nine. Ennis was, as always, in the faces of his opponents and at the heart of his team’s performance. The win against his former club the Bulldogs particularly highlighted the hooker’s calming nature on the Sharks as he steadied the ship and guided the side to victory.
The conclusion of the 2015 season sees fullback Michael Gordon departing for Parramatta, a signing that nearly happened mid season following some turbulence at Cronulla. The Sharks’ number one will be missed showing his spark again in the second half of the season once negotiations were sorted. Gordon’s ability to support as an extra ball runner has seen him win the Monty Porter Medal for clubman of the year the previous two years straight. The loss of Gordon will however gives marquee signing Ben Barba a greater shot in his favoured position having started at five eighth for Cronulla in 2015 before being pushed to the bench.
Incoming for 2016 are proven halves James Maloney from the Roosters and Chad Townsend, who returns home after a couple of seasons in New Zealand. While Jack Bird had a stellar season for Cronulla in the number six jersey he will be able to move to his favoured spot in the centres with Maloney ready to step in to the halves. Townsend offers an organising role which will free up Maloney to wreak havoc. Expect the latter to form a lethal combination with Barba and Ennis giving the Sharks a more varied attacking structure, a facet of the game they have been lacking.
Cronulla exceeded expectations in 2015 going further then most could predict and claiming some big scalps along the way. And while this year was a positive, 2016 shapes as being even better with the club’s signings increasing the strength in the team where it is needed most. While the past season was exciting for Sharks’ fans, the future looks full of even more promise. Things are looking very bright in the Shire.