Despite being a massive Parramatta supporter, the Cronulla Sharks are always a team that I have had a soft spot for – probably because the Sharks seem to be the Club where so many of my Eels have gone over the years when they are looking for a new club. Names that come instantly to mind are John Morris, Jeff Robson, Eric Grothe and Broderick Wright.
It’s partly for this reason (and partly because of players like Luke Lewis), that I always keep an eye on the Sharks and I can honestly say that I was delighted for them last night as they came away 24-22 victors against the Brisbane Broncos. This win was astonishing for many reasons but mainly because with 26 minutes left to go, the Sharks trailed the Broncos 22-0. This was a team that had not scored a point since the middle of May. Come full time, the Sharks had scored 24 unanswered points and come away with their first win in six games.
For a Club that has been through as much as the Sharks have over the past 2 years, I was really pleased to see their supporters with a smile on their face. Over the years Sharks fans have been tremendously loyal and their Club is one which has proven, time and time again that it will not give up. Despite the continuing ASADA investigations (which do not look like they will be resolved any time soon), the Sharks have not been a side which has been shielded from controversy in the past. Names and words like Reni Maitua, Matthew Johns and financial difficulty are not unfamiliar to NRL supporters or to Sharks fans who have been tremendously resilient through what has been another period of instability at their club.
More than any other club, I think, the Sharks are a Club which has suffered a huge amount because of factors external to the team’s performance. It is often the case that clubs which have instability at a governance level suffer on the field (Parramatta are certainly a testament to that). So in that vein, the Sharks performances over the last 2 seasons simply reflect what has essentially been turmoil off the field.
With a team that boasts some real talent including Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Todd Carney, whilst they may not be the most talented roster in the NRL at the moment, their roster lends itself to far better performances than we have seen over the past two seasons. This season, their win against the Broncos takes them to 3 wins for this season… a season that Sharks fans probably wish they could forget.
For the sake of the Sharks and their fans – I sincerely hope that the ASADA investigation does not continue for much longer. It is already in its 18th month and has proceeded basically at snail’s pace.
We all remember what was called “the darkest day” in Australian Sport, where following the Australian Crime Commission’s report on the use of banned substances in the NRL, Cronulla was named as one of 6 clubs to be mentioned in the report. Following this came rumours that 14 Cronulla Sharks players could be suspended by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) based on a period in 2011 when Stephen Dank was employed by the Club.
Season 2013, as you will all remember, began in absolute turmoil, with Shane Flanagan being stood down before the opening game of the season with his players and the Cronulla fans rallying around him. Another four senior staff members were also sacked.
Unfortunately, the resolution of this matter has not come quickly.
In the interim, the Sharks have seen Damian Irvine quit as Cronulla NRL club chairman amid the anti-doping investigation, Shane Flanagan reinstated to the Cronulla coaching box at the end of March, Steve Noyce being installed as General Manager of Football, debate between the Sharks and ASADA in relation to how much information players are required to divulge following the failed interview between Wage Graham and ASADA, ASADA announcing it had suspended further interviews with Cronulla Sharks players, Glenn Coleman quitting as Sharks chairman and then there was quiet… until July when the NRL stepped in to ensure that there was co-operation between players and ASADA investigators, with threatened sanctions for anyone not giving reasonable assistance. Bruno Cullen then stepped down as CEO with Steve Noyce replacing him all amidst the belief that interviews had started between ASADA and the players again.
We now find ourselves 18 months in, with no resolution in sight. Whilst the Sharks seem to be in a much better position both financially and in terms of membership than they were a couple of seasons ago, the continuing investigation is undoubtedly having an impact on their on field performance and their ability to recruit and retain talent.
At this stage, it almost feels like Sharks fans should simply enjoy their team’s on field performances as much as possible and enjoy every win as it comes.
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