Andrew Fifita could still have some improvement in him, according to Sharks coach Peter Sharp. Copyright: Renee McKay/NRL Photos. Credit: Renee McKay/NRL Photos Copyright: Renee McKay/NRL Photos
Cronulla Sharks interim coach Peter Sharp has warned that one of the most unstoppable players of 2013, representative prop Andrew Fifita, can get even better this year.
However Sharp also expressed concern that the club could go into its Round 1 match missing both of its first-choice halves, with Todd Carney battling to overcome a hamstring strain and Jeff Robson guaranteed to be missing for around six weeks after receiving facial fractures in the side's final trial.
Asked if Fifita could match his stunning performances of 2013, where he was the club's leading try scorer with nine four-pointers in 25 games, also making 32 tackles and 158 metres per game (for an NRL-topping 3,949 metres), Sharp said "going on last week's trial I think he can, yeah".
Sharp's comments come as Sharks captain Paul Gallen has warned his towering teammate: "Rugby's no fun."
Fifita starred in Cronulla's narrow 28-22 trial loss to Wests Tigers, scoring one try, having another disallowed following an offside ruling, and also laying on a try for teammate Sam Tagatase.
"He'll reproduce [his 2013 form] I'm pretty sure," Sharp said.
"He's keen to do well, he's got his [twin] brother [David] here, his brother's pushing for selection as well. We're hoping all that sort of stuff will add up for an improved year for Andrew, he could slightly improve on last year which would be great because he was outstanding last year."
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Sharp was less positive over the halves situation, however.
"It's certainly an issue coming into the first game possibly without your two main halves, the two halves that played last year. [Carney has] a hamstring strain, we're hopeful he'll play Round 1 but we'll see how he goes, we won't risk him. [Daniel] Holdsworth will be there."
If Carney is out there remains a question mark over who will be Holdworth's partner in the halves for the Round 1 match against the Titans, Sharp added.
Aside from the injury to Robson, Sharp said he was satisfied with the side's buildup and trial form – which included making the semi-finals of the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines, and a 24-12 win over Manly in their first trial.
"I think the object was to get as much football in for as many guys as possible and I think we did that over the two trials and the Nines. It's about having a look at some of the younger guys too, and getting the senior guys some footy under their belt and some contact and all that stuff," Sharp said.
Running his eye over the rest of the squad, Sharp pointed to some exciting youngsters coming through into first grade.
"Valentine Holmes and Michael Lichaa will certainly be in the mix. Valentine Holmes is an exciting prospect but I'm not entirely sure if he's ready this year. Nu Brown's another exciting prospect too. I don't know if they're ready for first grade but Lichaa certainly is at some stage this year."
Sharp also said new recruits Blake Ayshford and Matt Prior had been very impressive at training, as had Bryce Gibbs coming off a long-term injury.
"Ayshford and Matty Prior, they've trained the house down and they've been really impressive – sometimes you just need to change the club don't you, to give you a spring in your step? Hopefully we've provided that avenue for them.
"Jono Wright's been good, Bryce Gibbs has been good after sort of a year in the wilderness with an Achilles injury which has been fairly severe. He's pain-free and has absolutely trained the house down Gibbsy, he's fit and raring to go."
Sharp said former Eels and Origin winger Eric Grothe has shown "encouraging" signs.
"He's done a great job and scored a couple of nice tries. He's worked hard on his game, he's a project after being out that long."