5 burning questions: Sharks
In order to move on from the most tumultuous season in the club's history, the Sharks need to address these five things to be better in 2015.
1. How is their mindset in the post-ASADA era?
It will be interesting to see how keen the Sharks will be for another roll of the dice so soon after a terrible season. Whether they play with a chip on the shoulder or put it behind them remains to be seen but if they are out to avenge their write-off of a year then all guns should be blazing. With Paul Gallen, Wade Graham, Anthony Tupou and perhaps Nathan Gardner (who is yet to re-sign) set to return on November 21 from their back-dated ASADA suspensions, Cronulla will be able to finally find comfort in knowing everyone is back on deck.
2. What does Shane Flanagan bring back to Cronulla?
A couple of re-signings hopefully, considering 18 men are still off-contract and 14 of them played first grade in 2014. They aren't all middle-of-the-road players either with the likes of 2014 regulars Bryce Gibbs, Tupou Sopoaga, Siosaia Vave and Jonathan Wright still unsigned as countdown to pre-season kicks in. Flanagan, who is still to meet criteria set out by the NRL prior to his return from an NRL-imposed sanction, will get the final say on who stays and who goes. I'm sure fans won't complain about a few more wins either.
3. Thirty-seven first graders?
If you take away John Morris, Todd Carney, Beau Ryan and Michael Lichaa and add Michael Ennis, Mitch Brown, Jack Bird and Sami Sauiluma, you'll be hard-pressed finding where 37 men play come March. The reality of the Sharks' wooden spoon acquiring run in 2014 was that they had to blood nine rookies into the team for their NRL debuts and beyond, and use 37 men overall. The club will be overflowing with wingers especially with Brown, Sauiluma, Valentine Holmes, Jacob Gagan, Sosaia Feki and Jonathan Wright fighting for two spots. The Sharks have overstocked on back-rowers too although Gallen, Tupou, Graham, Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington will be the prime candidates come the new year.
4. Will Gallen's body hold up?
Due to State of Origin, injury and ASADA suspension, the Sharks captain only managed nine games in 2014. He'd want to double that at least if Cronulla are to be any chance at their break-through premiership. While there are calls for 'Gal' to retire from the representative arena, you would think he'd want to stick around to go back-to-back with New South Wales in 2015. It's been a torturous two seasons for the inspirational skipper but with the mental anguish largely behind him and an extended physical break due to his drug ban, we should see a revitalised Gallen come 2015.
5. Can they get through drama free?
It's the million-dollar question. The 2014 season saw Peter Sharp replace the suspended Flanagan, quit midway through the year with under-20s coach James Shepherd taking over from there. Throw in a humongous injury toll that threw up two mid-season retirements (Ryan and Morris), one giant ASADA scandal that saw several players suspended, a wooden spoon, Todd Carney's sacking and Andrew Fifita's troubles and there you have the definition of "season from hell". While you can't count out the Shiremen from staying out of trouble, club management should have no troubles keeping their men in tow.