Season Preview: Cronulla Sharks
THE Sharks’ 2009 season couldn’t have been worse. For their fans, it exceeded a nightmare season – if that’s possible. Group-sex allegations, positive drugs tests, racial slurs, a CEO sacked… then came their on-field tale of woe. <br><br>In fact, the Sharks won just five games all season, losing 19 and conceding 568 points in the process. This year, however, with a whole host of new faces, the club is confident it can turn around the horror year that was 2009.<br><br><b>Their Keys To Success…</b> The Sharks have potentially one of the best young groups of forwards in the NRL. Led by the fiery workhorse and former captain Paul Gallen, young props Luke Douglas and Kade Snowden regularly laid a winning platform for their team last season – but a mix of bad options and inefficient ball-playing meant the team never capitalised. <br><br>Throw in former international Anthony Tupou and hard-hitting second-rower Reece Williams, who is returning from injury, and the nucleus is there for the club to succeed… if the backs can ‘back’ them up. <br><br>And they’ll be even more dangerous with the addition of creative ball-playing back-rower Adam Cuthbertson, who comes to the Shire from Manly.<br><br><b>Expect Plenty From…</b> Fullback Nathan Stapleton had a breakthrough season in 2009 due to the regular absence of first-choice no.1 Brett Kearney. Last year, in 12 appearances, Stapleton shone and won plenty of admirers with his off-the-cuff, full-steam-ahead style of play. <br><br>With Kearney no longer at the club, the Glen Innes native should be able to nail down the custodian position – and if he does you can bet he’ll be playing some first-class football.<br><br><b>They’re Really Going To Miss…</b> Brett Seymour. He got caught in the headlights too many times last season – although none had anything to do with his on-field performance. <br><br>The former Broncos playmaker offered the perfect foil for Cronulla’s premier creator Trent Barrett – with Seymour on song the Sharks were a much better attacking unit. With Seymour dismissed from the club for one too many alcohol-related incidents and now playing out of New Zealand, the Sharks are missing that attacking option – a lot now rests on the mature shoulders of journeyman John Morris; however he’s just an option in the halves. <br><br>With Seymour in the halves for a full season, the Sharks could’ve done some damage – just like they did in 2008, before folding against Melbourne. And it was no surprise the Sharks got smashed in that game against the Storm either – Seymour had been injured the week before and was forced to watch from the sideline.<br><br><b>Time To Stand Up…</b> Ben Pomeroy. The sturdy centre’s form in the past two seasons has been inconsistent to say the least. One week he’s a devastating runner of the football who creates havoc on every hit-up, the next week he’s error-riddled and dropping off tackles. <br><br>For the Sharks to pose a threat this season, players like Pomeroy – who have been playing NRL for several seasons but still haven’t reached their potential – need to step up. If he does reach the heights he can, Sharks coach Ricky Stuart could have a reason for optimism – and the Sharks’ fans just might break from their catatonic-like depression.<br><br><b>Coach Watch…</b> Ricky Stuart said he couldn’t have been happier with his team’s performance last year – although they finished 15th. Sure they fought hard in every match and did so without several players in each game, and in a cloud of controversy each week, but was his ‘pride’ simply a means to muddy the waters when it came to protecting his job? <br><br>Quite simply his team failed to achieve its goals and fans left Toyota Stadium after that last devastating loss of the season against the Rabbitohs feeling heartbroken – and utterly gutted. <br><br>Stuart has a fine reputation as a coach in the NRL… but surely the powers that be in the Shire must be tired of excuses, reasons for failure and, ultimately, poor performances. Expect the Sharks to do a lot better this season – or expect to see Stuart under increasing pressure.<br><br><b>They’re All The Better For…</b> Hookers Paul Aiton and Stuart Flanagan will give the Sharks the quality of service and explosive dummy-half running they’ve missed since Isaac De Gois left for Newcastle at the end of 2008. <br><br>Sure, last season Terence Seu Seu showed some of his potential… but his passing out of dummy-half was inconsistent. <br><br>The reliability and professionalism of Aiton and Flanagan means the Sharks will kick off each set of six with crisp service – a major advantage over previous years.<br><br><b>Predicted Finish…</b> So much depends on how team-mates gel – if Stuart works some magic the Sharks could sneak into the top eight. <br><br>However, depth in the forward ranks looks skinny.<br><br>While their first-choice pack is capable of dominating any team, those players behind them lack the experience.<br> <br>Expect Cronulla to struggle as the season goes on, and as the injuries mount. A 12th- or 13th-placed finish.<br><br><b>Toyota Cup…</b> The story of the Sharks’ 2009 Toyota Cup team was no better than the NRL team. The under-20s finished dead last – a result of just four wins and 20 losses. <br><br>This year, however; there’s a host of new players in the squad, including Peter Gallen, brother of Australian and NSW representative and fellow Shark Paul.