Cronulla Sharks Stats
2013 Record: 14 wins from 24 premiership games (fifth placed)
5-year record: 45 wins from 120 premiership games (38% win record)
Arrivals: Tinirau Arona, Blake Ayshford, Jacob Gagan, Eric Grothe Junior, Daniel Holdsworth, Matt Prior
Departures: Jason Bukuya, Jon Green, Tyrone Peachey, Ben Ross, Mark Taufua, Chad Townsend, Stewart Mills, Ben Pomeroy
Coach: Peter Sharp (interim – Shane Flanagan suspended)
Fixtures to start and end 2014
First five fixtures: Titans (H), Bulldogs (A), Dragons (H), Knights (A), Warriors (H)
Final five fixtures: Warriors (A), Storm (A), Raiders (H), Cowboys (A), Tigers (A)
Positives for 2014
Looking back at 2013, the Sharks made some smart moves on the field, finding themselves winning their first finals match since 2008 and being entrenched inside the eight for most of the year. It was a performance that would give the side a lot of confidence moving forward.
Todd Carney keeps getting better for the black, white and blue, and will continue to get better if he can stay fit. He has learnt to balance attacking flare with controlling play, a balance he lacked in earlier years of his career.
The Sharks forward pack is another key asset to the team, and has been a positive for a while now, even during the clubs years of on field struggles. Led by Gallen, the pack is up there with the best forward lines the NRL, and easily churns up the middle of the field, to allow space for the likes of Carney and fullback Michael Gordon to work their magic.
Ricky Leutele is another positive for the club. The men outside of Carney are often maligned, but in this young man, Cronulla have a future star. At the beginning of 2013, Leutele’s confidence grew and he was causing headaches for opposition centres, before he sustained a season ending knee injury. Expect him to continue to grow in to a force in 2014.
ASADA on-going investigations a side-show
The National Rugby League announced on December 17 2013 that preliminary findings proposed against Cronulla would be a fine totalling $1 millon AU, coach Shane Flanagan suspended for twelve months and former head strength and conditioning trainer Trent Elkin’s registration cancelled. Cronulla and coach Flanagan are set to challenge the penalties. The NRL has already indicated they won’t be in a hurry to make a decision.
The investigation continues, almost a year on since the announcement was made and there doesn’t appear to be a resolution in sight. Captain Paul Gallen admitted he wasn’t sure how he managed to play the last season with the pressure that the investigation placed on the team, and a second season of this may prove too much for the club.
Whilst fines and coaching staff have learnt their fate, the outcome for any players involved continues to be up in the air, and until this is sorted, the off field environment will be hard for the club, and hard the longer it continues, the more it will creep in to on field performances.
On the player front, Cronulla has had a quiet year for recruitment, with the players coming in not looking like the calibre required to fix the backline issues that have haunted Cronulla.
The club has also lost some strong players, in particular young X-Factor Tyrone Peachy, who many saw as a future stalwart of the club.
Jayson Bukuya is another loss that will be hard to cover, with the incoming Matt Prior not the standard of the New Zealand Warriors bound young second rower.
It is hard to know how Cronulla will go this season, with results of the ASADA investigation still pending. The cloud over the club continues to build pressure, and the results could make or break the club in 2014, and possibly beyond that.
On paper, the class of 2014 looks weaker than the previous season, however are still in with a shot to play finals football.
If the club avoids major ramifications from ASADA they should see themselves mid table come the end of the regular season.