With the season opener just around the corner we look at how the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks will go in 2021.
The Cronulla Sharks struggled in 2020 with countless injuries to key players, which hindered their ability to improve their position on the ladder, ultimately finishing in eighth place. They will be hoping to avoid as many injuries this season to maintain consistency and go deeper into the 2021 finals series.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Blayke Brailey, Josh Dugan, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Mawene Hiroti, Royce Hunt, Shaun Johnson, Sione Katoa, William Kennedy, Nene Macdonald, Billy Magoulias, Matt Moylan, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Briton Nikora, Kyle Patterson, Franklin Pele, Jesse Ramien, Toby Rudolf, Siosifa Talakai, Jensen Taumoepeau, Aiden Tolman, Chad Townsend, Connor Tracey, Braydon Trindall, Jack Williams, Teig Wilton, Aaron Woods, Bronson Xerri.
Jonaiah Lualua, Jack Martin, Luke Metcalf (Manly Sea Eagles), Aiden Tolman (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs).
Jayson Bukuya (retired), Cameron King (retired), Scott Sorensen (Penrith Panthers).
St. George Illawarra Dragons (A), Canberra Raiders (H), Parramatta Eels (A), North Queensland Cowboys (H), Sydney Roosters (A).
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Sharks have an excellent team on paper, with a mixture of experience and youth across all positions: 2020 saw the development of a number of players who came through the Canterbury Cup system in 2019. These players will have gained invaluable experience from a full season of first grade. Players such as Toby Rudolph, Royce Hunt, Siosifa Talakai, Sione Katoa, Teig Wilton, Billy Magoulias, and Will Kennedy can be expected to improve their consistency dramatically. Consistency and an injury-free run is the formula to play finals footy in 2021.
Last season, the Sharks finished in eighth place with 10 wins, 10 losses and a zero point differential: this wasn’t a bad way to finish, however the club would know that they are capable of more. Had they been luckier with injuries and their weekly team were more consistent, perhaps they would have finished higher and had a better chance in the finals series.
This year is looking more hopeful, with Matt Moylan expected to line up from the first round: a persistent hamstring injury kept him on the sidelines for the majority of last season. He is an invaluable player and, when at his best, can be a defining factor for Cronulla. While it will be beneficial for Moylan to return to the field, the Sharks will struggle without Shaun Johnson, who ruptured his Achilles in a season-ending injury last September. He is still in recovery and is currently expected to make his return to the field between rounds eight and 10.
If Cronulla are able to have their full squad together on the field, they are highly likely to score points and win games. They have shown what they are capable of multiple times; it has only been unfortunate injuries that prevented more success last season. They will have to go without Johnson for the first eight to 10 weeks of the year; however, upon his return they could easily make their way up the ladder. It’s not to say they are heavily reliant on Johnson, however his presence makes a big difference.
Look out for a big year from Toby Rudolph. He was ultra-impressive in his first year of first grade in 2020, having played most of 2019 in the Canterbury Cup following a knee reconstruction. With that full season of first grade under his belt (in difficult circumstances) and with improvement to his size, agility, and confidence, we can expect big things from him.
Over the off-season, the Cronulla Sharks recruited four new players: Aiden Tolman, Luke Metcalf, Jack Martin, and Jonaiah Lualua.
Lualua has been brought up through the Sharks Academy and development system, while Jack Martin is a Brisbane recruit who has joined Cronulla on a development contract.
Aiden Tolman was recruited to the Sharks over the off-season, coming from the Bulldogs, where he played 222 games – beginning in 2011. The Bulldogs had a poor season in 2020. In the hopes of rebuilding and improving in 2021, Tolman was one of a few players told he was no longer needed at the club, and he signed a one-year deal with the Cronulla Sharks. He is a tough no-nonsense player who is strong in the middle and very experienced. Luke Metcalf has come from Manly where he got limited opportunities. Ironically, he is a Sharks junior returning home. He has a lot of ability and could fill a utility role at the club when required.
The Sharks have a tough start to the year, beginning with a game against the Dragons, then having to come up against the Raiders, Eels, Roosters, Knights and Storm in the first eight rounds – all finalists from last year. The Sharks are notoriously slow starters, and with that draw, combined with a few early injuries, it may be difficult to gain early momentum. However, it is a long season and as players return – and providing the roster stays relatively injury-free – the wins could start flowing later in the season. Having said that, the local derby to kick off the season could be enough to fire them up to have a strong start to the season, allowing them to gain the early required momentum.
Top Tryscorer – Sione Katoa
Top Pointscorer – Shaun Johnson
Club Player of the Year – Wade Graham