2016 NRL SEASON PREVIEW: Cronulla Sutherland Sharks

Last season placing: 6th (knocked out in semi finals)

2015 was a positive year for the Cronulla side. The club returned to finals football and disposed of the bunnies in the first week, before being shut out by eventual premiers the Cowboys the week after. Despite the negative ending, some positive recruiting has the Sharks set for a stronger 2016.

The Sharks main concern going in to the season is perhaps the age of the forward pack. While past seasons have shown the backline to be the Cronulla side’s weakness, this is not the case for the year ahead. If the Sharks are too succeed, they will need some old legs to carry them up field. From there, the back line should be able to score plenty of points, something that hasn’t been so likely in recent times at the Shire club.

Off the field, the club is strong, and with the front office running smoothly again, and the building development keeping finances in check, the team can focus on what is happening on the field. Perhaps one distraction will be the future of key players Ennis, Gallen and Holmes, the first two whom are drawing towards the end of their careers, and the latter who remains in high demand from rival clubs.

Key Players:

Ben Barba: The seasoned fullback remains locked in a fight for the number one spot with Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird. Barba looked very strong at the Nines pre season tournament, and claims that statistics from the coaching staff show he is the fittest and strongest he has ever been. That is a scary sign for clubs facing Barba, especially if it converts to the form he showed in 2011 when at the Bulldogs. To start, however, he has to convince coach Shane Flanagan that he is the man for the fullback spot. While Bird looked solid enough in the trials at number one, Barba could add that spark the club has longed for, and therefore could pose the greatest threat to opposition line ups. At this stage, he may have to bide his time, with Bird expected to be named, with Barba starting on the bench.

Paul Gallen: The captain of Cronulla is drawing towards the end of his career, suggesting this season might be his swansong. Gallen will want to go out on a high, and will want to show age has not wearied his legs. The key for gallen this year will be to remember his role in the team. He is best known for his yardage gained from charging runs, and will have to hold back his desire to play make, for the good of the team. The addition of James Maloney and Chad Townsend will hopefully free up Gallen to hit the ball up, rather than feel the pressure to push the passes and try to create something out of nothing.

James Maloney: Maloney was perhaps the biggest recruit for the Cronulla club. Coming from the Roosters, his kicking and passing prowess are a great boost for the Shire club, something that has been lacking in recent memory. Maloney is also a good ball runner, and with Townsend joining him in the halves, he should be free to create room and get plenty of ball to his outside men. Maloney will be the key player in Flanagan’s attacking plans. Defensively, Maloney can be a concern. He missed the most tackles in the competition in 2015. Players defending along side him will have to be careful to help the five eight out, and make sure he doesn’t defend himself out of the game.

Likely Round 1 line-up: 1. Ben Barba 2. Valentine Holmes 3. Gerard Beale 4. Jack Bird 5. Sosaia Feki 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Sam Tagatese 9. Michael Ennis 10. Andrew Fifita 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen
Interchange: 14. Chris Heighington 15. Joseph Paulo 16. Jayson Bukuya 17. Jesse Sene-Lefao

Story of 2016: Could this be the year Cronulla finally break the hoodoo and win their first premiership? It looks to be the strongest Shark’s line up in years and having improved on personnel from last year in which they mad the semi finals, it looks like they will go deep in to the Finals. The Shire club will dare to dream that the 50th year is the year the porch light leads Harold Holt home. They will certainly be there or thereabouts once again.  

Ladder: Will make the top eight.
Predicted Top Tryscorer: Valentine Holmes
Predicted Top Pointscorer: James Maloney
Predicted Player of the Year: Wade Graham


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