The Cronulla Sharks 2016 season should be something fans are proud of but instead it shapes as a probable embarrassment for the club who spent much of the season at first, but at the season end have slipped to third on the back of an unimpressive past six rounds.
Now having to travel to Canberra to face the Premierships’ form team in the Raiders they face the prospect of a straight sets exit if they can’t return to their mid-season form. It will be humiliating for fans and will leave the Shark’s red faced in a season where they won 15 straight games.
Cronulla supporters will know however that where there is life there is a chance, and the team has at least two bites of the Finals cherry to turn their season around and return to the form that saw them beat every team in the competition throughout 2016.
They can also take comfort in the fact the last time the two teams met at Canberra Stadium the visitor’s came away with a fantastic 40-16 win over the Green Machine.
They certainly have the side, they just need the belief.
Phil Gould said only a week ago that he believed the Sharks would win the Premiership as they had a good mix of youth and experience and had the arrogance required to claim the prize. The only problem is they seem to have lost that arrogance at just the wrong time.
Jack Bird is a prime example of what is wrong at the Cronulla club. Bird is a confidence player and seemingly had endless belief in his ability. In the Cronulla win over Canberra Bird was all over Raiders’ captain Jarrod Croker having a field day as he ran in a try and assisted in another, as well as running for 100 metres. He now looks a shadow of himself.
While Bird ran for a whopping 156m against Melbourne, he made uncharacteristic errors, dropping a number of passes cold and looking unsure in defence. At one point in the game Cronulla looked certain to crash over as they stretched Melbourne’s defence, but Bird chose to pass to Valentine Holmes, who was standing on the sideline rather than back himself in. It was a play the young centre would have certainly made earlier in 2016 and a play he must be willing to make again.
If the Sharks begin to back their scoring ability coming out of their shell again the points will flow and they will be more than a match for any other team. They make the third most running metres of any side in the NRL in 2016 giving them plenty of chances in the attacking zone. At their best they made the most of this and coach Shane Flanagan will be working on their attacking confidence again.
They certainly have the strike power with winger Valentine Holmes close to the club record tries in a season (currently on 18, one behind David Peachey’s best). Add to this Barba’s tally of 15 and opposite winger Sosaia Feki’s 13 tries, the Sharks’ pack plenty of punch. It is a fact that most people seem to have forgotten due to the drop in form in recent weeks.
The general public has written off Cronulla but the side has shown they are more than capable of beating anyone else on their day as long as they too haven’t written themselves off. They have the defence and the attack, it is just a matter of whether they have the belief.
The key will be a good start against Canberra. If they can lift themselves off the floor early in the contest their confidence will grow and once they get that back the rest will click, and with it the sun will shine on the Shire side once more.