Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
The fairytale finish didn't eventuate but the new-look Sharks were still a success story in 2012. Can 2013 provide a better result?
Strengths: Even allowing for aggressive Jeremy Smith’s shift to the Knights and emerging talent Tyson Frizell’s departure to neighbours St George Illawarra, the Sharks will boast more depth in their back row in 2013 than any opponent. (So much in fact we wonder whether skipper Paul Gallen may end up spending some time in the front row?)
Luke Lewis’ arrival adds creativity (with Todd Carney in the No.6 we can’t see the former Panther slotting into the backline), while former Tiger Chris Heighington will deliver a monumental work ethic. Throw in Jayson Bukuya, who was a standout in the back half of 2012, plus ball-playing Anthony Tupou and Wade Graham and coach Shane Flanagan has a feast to chew through throughout 2013. Certainly it will shore up their stocks through the Origin period and leave them in good stead to maintain their momentum in the back half of the season, something that cost them in 2012.
Fullback is the prickly question: Michael Gordon made it clear to the Panthers he wanted to play No.1 so we can’t see him settling for a wing spot. Coach Flanagan may have to pull off some United Nations-style diplomacy should Nathan Gardner maintain his fitness. Jonathan Wright is a made-to-measure first grade player who will fit seamlessly into the centre position vacated by veteran Colin Best, while Beau Ryan, who was shunted around the Wests Tigers’ backline in 2012, should deliver his best season in the top grade with a regular home on the wing.
Weaknesses: There’s no doubting the steel in their defence but the Sharks simply need to find a way of posting more than the 18 points they averaged each game in 2012.
Carney’s recruitment was supposed to go a long way towards fixing their attack but he was left with too much to do on his own. Gordon’s injection from the back will yield them huge territory (he’s capable of between 150 and 200 running metres most outings); from there it’s up to Carney and Lewis to deliver, with Lewis possibly offering another playmaking option on the other side of the field to the No.6.
Also, you can bet coach Flanagan’s Christmas wish will be for Paul Gallen to suit up more than the 16 occasions he did in 2012. By the coach’s admission it cost the Shire side a spot in the top four.