Fifth-placed Cronulla has received a big boost ahead of their do-or-die elimination Qualifying Final clash with North Queensland on Saturday afternoon with confirmation veteran hooker John Morris has signed a one-year extension to remain at the club in 2014.
In-form No.9 Morris, a veteran in his 13th season in the NRL, has been a mainstay of the Sharks’ side this year, one of only two Cronulla players to take the field in all 24 matches.
Morris, who says his side has the character, bond and playing strength to go deep into the finals series, hopes penning a new deal is just the start of the excitement he’ll experience in the month ahead.
“I’ve just re-signed for another 12 months so I’m really excited about that but the focus is on winning the premiership this year, not waiting for my last year,” Morris, 33, tells NRL.com.
“I’m enjoying my footy, physically feeling great and this group of players I can sense some real success coming and hopefully it’s this year. It’s a really special group and I feel I’ve played some of my best footy this year so everything pointed towards playing another year and ‘Flanno’ (coach Shane Flanagan) has been good enough to give me another year. It was an easy decision really.”
Morris’ “easy” decision to play on in 2014 is no doubt in part due to the calibre of players surrounding him at the Sharks. Cronulla’s major strength is its pack, which features a host of rep players past and present including Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Anthony Tupou, Andrew Fifita, Chris Heighington and Ben Ross among others.
“I feel I’ve got to be one of the luckiest hookers in the comp to play with those sort of blokes,” Morris admits.
“They’re so strong and they love rolling their sleeves up and doing the dirty work. I admire what they do, particularly blokes like Fifita – seeing his development from the start of this year. I remember telling him at the start of the season he could play Origin if he believes in himself, and he does – he’s that type of bloke and his energy rubs off on everyone around him. Then you’ve got blokes like ‘Gal’… Luke Lewis, the list goes on. That’s definitely our strength and we definitely play our best footy when blokes like them are going forward with the footy up the middle of the park.”
With the ongoing ASADA investigation still lingering over the heads of the Sharks’ players and staff, Morris believes playing finals football will be something of a celebration for the club – and another opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. And the former Country Origin representative believes his side has the cattle – and comradery – capable of giving the NRL’s best sides a real run for their money.
“It’s a massive breath of fresh air really,” Morris says of playing in the play-offs.
“For obvious reasons it has been a tough year but it’s been a rewarding one too. No-one thought we’d do any good this year and we’ve proved a few people wrong and showed the type of character and the bond that exists within this club. But the job’s not done yet – we’ve put ourselves in the picture and given ourselves a chance to have a crack at it but the real business starts on Saturday afternoon.
“There’s a sense of belief in our ability this year. We know we’ve proven to ourselves when we play our best it’s good enough against the best teams and we’ve proven that with a couple of good victories over the top-placed teams.
"We’re a very tight team, we’ve bonded really well and we’ve got some good experience this year with the new blokes who have come into the side like Luke Lewis, Chris Heighington, Michael Gordon and Beau Ryan – they’ve brought a lot of experience with them, big-game experience. I think we’ve got the balance right this year and we’re pretty strong from 1-17. Our interchange bench is as strong as the blokes who are starting – I think that’s a real strength this year that the blokes who are starting, we’re not taking a backward step when we take those starting players off. It’s a balanced side and we have a belief in our ability we can match it with the top sides.”
This week, though, the Cowboys – a side that beat the Sharks 31-18 just two weeks ago – await. It promises to be an enthralling battle in the first of the finals’ sudden-death clashes.
“They’re a real tough team to play but we don’t need to do too much video on them because we only played them a fortnight ago,” Morris, who’s currently completing a Masters of Coaching and is aiming to set up a junior elite training squad at the Sharks next year, says.
“We didn’t play well that day and we lost Todd Carney the night before kick-off so we sort of know what to expect from them. They’re a team that has some big-game players in Thurston and Bowen and they’ve got some very good outside backs who get their big forwards going forward for them.
“It should be a good battle.”