Flanagan upbeat on Sharks progress
They may have marquee star Paul Gallen and Dally M Prop of the Year Andrew Fifita on World Cup duty, plus Luke Lewis in the recovery ward, but Sharks coach Shane Flanagan insists Cronulla are one of the least disrupted NRL clubs heading into the off-season.
"We're in a pretty good position in that a lot of our key players are here to do our pre-season," an enthusiastic Flanagan told NRL.com.
"A lot of other clubs, their halves are away, their hookers are away, we don't have that – Todd [Carney] and Robbo [Jeff Robson] and Daniel Holdsworth [the former Bulldogs playmaker who is joining Cronulla from Super League], Michael Gordon and Nathan Gardner – all our key positions are in training so it's a good base to have a good pre-season, that is a bonus for us," he said.
Crucially, both hookers, John Morris and Isaac De Gois, are also on deck.
"The players that are away – Gal, Lewis, Fifita – they'll slot in, they're pros, they know the systems we have to work with so we're not too worried about them."
Although no doubt frustrated at losing a player of the calibre of Luke Lewis to an injury suffered while on representative duty – the ball-playing back-rower dislocated a shoulder sliding into advertising hoardings in the Kangaroos group match against Fiji – Flanagan said the rest may actually do Lewis good.
"He should be right for the start of the season but he won't do any pre-season training. Which doesn't worry me too much – Luke's had a big couple of years, he needs a rest but he's a professional player so when he comes back, hopefully for the start of the season, he'll be right, he'll be fresh. He's had 12 pre-seasons in a row, so one off isn't going to hurt him too much."
Outside of Lewis, fellow back-rower Anthony Tupou is currently on the sidelines recuperating from off-season knee surgery but will be back in training post-Christmas, according to Flanagan.
Flanagan also said he had been pleased the side had finished 2013 more strongly than it had in recent years and was confident there was plenty to build on into 2014.
"We're not going to take too many backward steps, we're just going to continue to build on what we were doing at the back of the  season. It was pleasing for me because the last couple of seasons we've sort of struggled at the end of the season.
"This year we were at our strongest at the end of the season, which was the plan, but sometimes plans don't come to fruition but we definitely were our strongest, we had our best players available bar Todd. If he was available in that semi final [a 24-18 loss to Manly at Brookvale Oval] we might have been a bit more of a chance.
"We just need to make sure we're in that position again next year and make sure we're strong at the end of the year again. I think our roster's improved. There's no excuses."