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<p>IT seems every year the question is asked: Can the Sharks at last win a maiden premiership?</P><p> Obviously anything is possible, but some years answering the question with a ‘yes’ is just wishful thinking. Other years it is closer to reality than fiction – and potentially this is one of those other years.</p><p> The Sharks finished just one game shy of the grand final last season… and that was with, it has to be said, one of the lamest attacks seen in recent NRL history.</p><p> So it stands to reason the addition of attacking footballers Trent Barrett, Anthony Tupou and Reni Maitua will only help them improve markedly… but Sharks fans have been optimistic before.</p><p> If the side can maintain its steely defence and Barrett and company can take the attack to another level, then they’ll figure deep into the finals again – and possibly gain a shot at that elusive flag.</p><p> <strong>How They’ll Play It</strong</p> The Sharks will be tough in defence and clinical in attack. Only three teams let in fewer tries in the regular season last year – two of them being the grand finalists Manly and Melbourne – so there is no reason to suggest the Sharks won’t keep their defensive edge.</p><p> They’ll protect their line with vigour and while often it won’t look flash they will nevertheless get the job done. But unlike last year, where they scored fewer tries than any other team and broke the line about as often as it snowed in Sydney, the Sharks should be much more potent in attack.</p><p> They won’t be overly expansive, and they won’t go from worst to first in one season, but Barrett, Tupou and Maitua will lift them enough to win more games. </p><p> <strong>Keep An Eye On</strong></p> Trent Barrett. The former St George Illawarra captain has still got it. He may take a little time to readjust to the NRL after two years in the UK with Wigan but Barrett will be the perfect style of attacking leader for Stuart’s style of play.</p><p> Adept at both taking on the line and putting others through holes, Barrett is a good package. </p><p> He is also a tough and uncompromising defender, something he has over the man he replaced (Brett Kimmorley). Do not be surprised to see Barrett part of a New South Wales resurgence in 2009 and if you want to back a smoky for the Dally M, he could be your man.</p><p> <strong>They’ll Really Miss</strong></p> Greg Bird. While the release of Bird holds many positives for the club, as it rids it of ongoing controversy and possible tension, on the field Bird’s presence will be sorely missed.</p><p> He was a powerful runner and strong defender and provided a great partnership with fellow ‘bruise brother’ Paul Gallen. He’ll be irreplaceable.</p><p> <strong>It’s Time To Stand Up</strong></p> Reni Maitua. Surely the guy has run out of chances? We all know he has plenty of skill on the field but off it he has had his troubles.</p><p> Sacked by the Bulldogs after breaking one straw too many, Maitua has been given a chance at the Sharks. Seeing how players like Todd Carney can’t even get a start overseas after off-field transgressions should be enough incentive for Maitua to finally straighten up and fly right.</p><p> Considering the money he commands it’s time he gave a return on the investment. especially now he's gone lame before the season kicks off.</p><p> <strong>Coach Watch</strong></p> You wouldn’t bet on Ricky Stuart leaving the Sharks. Or being ousted. Granted, the explosive coach has been in ‘sticky’ situations before (most recently resigning from the Australian job after an ugly blow-up at World Cup final referee Ashley Klein) but Cronulla have been much better for his arrival.</p><p> He is disciplined and intense and has the Shire boys tackling with venom. Anyway, by all accounts the Sharks couldn’t afford any pay-out…</p><p> <strong>They’re All The Better For</strong></p> Obviously the acquisition of Barrett will improve the Sharks but so will the damaging fringe running of Tupou. Coming over from the Roosters, Tupou is also one of the game’s best offloaders.</p><p> Working in tandem with Paul Gallen, he’ll be more than a handful. Look out for the Test forward to wreak havoc on the left edge where he has been historically awesome.</p><p> Given Barrett will have three very impressive wide-running forwards to choose from (Tupou, Gallen and Maitua) and ever improving centres like Ben Pomeroy, opposition defenders won’t be able to double team ‘Toops’. Consequently he’ll stand tall all season.</p><p> <strong>Predicted Finish</strong></p> Barring major injuries the Sharks are top-four material.</p><p> They are a better looking squad than last year and haven’t lost any defensive steel with their new roster. It takes courage to believe a Sharks premiership is possible but Cronulla fans should follow the yellow brick road because it is certainly a possibility.</p><p> <strong>Under-20s</strong></p> The Sharks finished a disappointing 14th in the Toyota Cup last season, winning just six games, so they’ll be hoping for better success in 2009. The side will be anchored by Fijian World Cup semi-finalist Jayson Bukuya (provided he isn’t playing NRL football) and is also bolstered by signings Jon Mannah, Luke Latham, Matthew Wright and Jason McGrady.</p><p> Mannah and Latham are forwards from Parramatta, while Wright is an outside back from Penrith who has represented New South Wales at junior level.</p><p> McGrady is a raw but very skilled country half ready to make a name for himself in the big city – just like his former Rothmans Medal-winning uncle Ewan did in the early 1990s.</p><p> <strong>New Breed</strong></p> SEASON 2008 was a whirlwind for Sharks back-rower Jayson Bukuya. He made his NRL debut and played a crucial role in Fiji’s superb World Cup run to the semi finals, so the 19-year-old can still smile despite suffering a major ankle injury in the 2009 trials.</p><p> Keep an eye out for more on Jayson Bukuya when brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.</p>
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