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Mid-season Report Card

Position after 13 rounds:
Wins: 3
Losses: 9
Points: 8
Differential: -82

There was much reason for optimism at the start of the 2009 season in the Sutherland Shire.

Following a successful 2008 that saw the Sharks finish on equal competition points as grand finalists Manly and Melbourne, the perennial bridesmaids were expected to challenge for the premiership this year.

Incoming faces including former Kangaroos Trent Barrett and Anthony Tupou, alongside Bulldogs veteran Corey Hughes, were only meant to add strength to the side.

But the wheels have all but fallen off in the most dramatic fashion. Group sex revelations from 2002 aside, Fraser Anderson’s defection to Japan, Brett Seymour’s drunken night out, Paul Gallen’s racist remark that saw him stripped of the captaincy and the Tony Zappia affair haven’t helped the Sharks on the field this season. In fact, these issues seemed to extend along Cronulla’s wretched nine-game losing streak. But they’ve now won two in a row and things are looking slightly brighter.

Are Things Going To Plan? Two weeks ago, the rails had fallen off the Sharks’ 2009 campaign following their long list on controversies and their losing streak. Now things are looking brighter following wins against the Eels and Warriors. But they’ve had a terrible start to the season and even the most loyal of fans would know a finals appearance is as likely as the return of Harold Holt.

Injury Front... It’s been a terrible start on the injury front at Cronulla as well. Two of their better players in Ben Ross (neck) and Brett Kearney (ankle) were ruled out earlier in the year for the rest of the season, and former captain Gallen’s injured shoulder hasn’t helped. Even fringe-first graders like Fijian World Cup representative Jayson Bukuya and Bronx Goodwin have spent time on the sideline, ensuring rookies make their debuts in their places.

If Only... David Simmons didn’t fumble a grubber which would’ve seen him score against the Rabbitohs in Round 7. Ultimately South Sydney won the match, but had Simmons forced the ball for a simple four-pointer the result could’ve been different. And with those two points the Sharks would’ve received much-needed confidence and momentum... but they didn’t register a victory after that point until Round 12 and their season is all but over.

Who’s Flying... Stand-in fullback Nathan Stapleton has done brilliantly since coming into first grade just a few weeks ago. Playing a similar electric attacking game to the Sharks’ injured first-choice no.1 Brett Kearney, Stapleton ran for 175 metres against the Warriors, breaking the line twice and scoring a try, while he ran for 189 metres against the Eels, recording one line break too. He’s just the sort of attacking player Cronulla needs to continue to climb out of their slump.

Needs To Lift... Bulldogs recruit Corey Hughes was brought to the club to cover the loss of Knights-bound Isaac De Gois... but to say he’s been disappointing is an understatement. So average his form has been, coach Ricky Stuart has dumped him to the NSW Cup, promoting Tony Caine to fill the role. It’s a great disappointment for the club, who were hoping Hughes could provide added leadership in the wake of the significant off-season losses of Kimmorley and Nutley. He was an ‘old head’ expected to stand up and lead the side – but he hasn’t.

Assistant Coach Shane Flanagan Says: “I’d like to think we’re on the improve. We got off to a good start against the Panthers but 24 hours later lost two of our good players in Ben Ross and Brett Kearney for the rest of the season. Then we had a few suspensions with Paul Gallen, Kade Snowden and Misi Taulapapa in weeks three, four and five in that middle period and we had to blood some of the younger players.

They’ve done well – some of them have played four, five and six games now – and we’re performing a bit better now. We’re expecting a better finish than our start because of that experience the younger players have got and we want to be more experienced because of that.

We can’t write-off making the finals but we’re taking it week by week at the moment and hopefully that side of things will take care of itself. We’re hoping to win our next game and string a few wins together and come Round 20 if we’re doing well we might set ourselves a goal to win three of five or whatever’s required. But at the moment we’re just thinking week by week because we can’t have our younger players thinking two or three weeks ahead.   

Predicted Finish... Currently sitting 15th, it’d take a big effort to climb up the table. While the Warriors went on a winning streak last year to make the grand final qualifier after just four wins in the first half of the year, the Sharks’ predicament is worse following the loss of several key players to injury.

It’s been a tough year for the Toyota Cup team, especially following the losses of Stapleton, Matt Wright and Blake Ferguson to the NRL side. The Toyota Cup side has strong comparisons to the first grade side’s predicament – sitting on just eight points with three wins... and a differential of -153. They’ll do well to climb off the bottom of the table by the end of the year.
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