Sharks Mid-Season Review
The Sharks kicked off the year where the left off in 2014, in disarray. After attaining rugby league's unwanted wooden spoon prize last year, the Sharks started the season with four-straight losses despite the return of coach Shane Flanagan. Having scalped wins against the Roosters twice, reigning premiers South Sydney, Newcastle and the Titans since, the Sharks find themselves entrenched in the bottom eight of the ladder but still in contention for finals football.
The Run Home: With their second bye of the year coming up this weekend, the Sharks have arguably the toughest run home out of any team in the NRL. Playing seven of their last 12 games away from home – including two stints of three consecutive games away from Remondis Stadium – the Sharks need to build big time on their two wins produced from their past three games.
Game to remember: Their 20-12 win over the Roosters in Round 5 was one where five-eighth Jack Bird announced himself as a future NRL superstar. In only his second game of first grade, Bird carried the Sharks to their first win of the season and had a hand in three tries. It also helped push the club onwards to a three-game winning streak.
The one that got away: Two clutch plays from Shaun Johnson in Round 9 saw the Warriors sneak away with victory over the Sharks. With the Warriors hitting the lead with seven minutes remaining, a bullocking try from prop Andrew Fifita in the final three minutes was all for naught as Johnson weaved his way through lacklustre Cronulla defence to steal victory in the final 60 seconds.
MVP: Making his return to the Origin arena off the back of his barnstorming form, Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita has been his team's best in 2015 after overcoming his previous injury demons. Averaging 30.6 tackles and 165.2 metres per game this year, Fifita has played a huge part in Cronulla already winning as many games this year as they did in 2014.
Stats that matter: Rugby league is a simple game with a simple goal – score more points than the opposition. Unfortunately the Sharks haven't ticked that box often. Having scored the fewest tries (31) and the third-fewest points overall (195) it's up to halves Bird and Jeff Robson to steer the ship with greater effect moving forward.
Fantasy stud: It's no surprise influential forwards Fifita and Paul Gallen are leading the way in NRL Fantasy. Racking up almost identical averages (Gallen 58.4, Fifita 58.8) the duo have actually lost value this year, though still sit pretty in the top 10 averages competition-wide. In terms of Cronulla's cash cow options, Bird has increased in value by $199k this year.
Injury report: From Anthony Tupou's broken jaw and detached chin to Gallen's torn gluteus maximus, the Sharks have had their fair share of injuries this year. Already Jacob Gagan (Achilles), Kyle Stanley and Fa'amanu Brown (both knee) are out for the season. However the Fifita brothers, Chris Heighington, Sosaia Feki and Ricky Leutele, after all spending time out over the course of the season, are all now fit.
What they are saying: "We've learnt some big lessons during the year the hard way. In a couple of games this year we've probably lost our way, but they're lessons that we've learnt and we are out to learn them and hopefully we'll be better for it" – prop Matt Prior tells NRL.com the Sharks are ready for the tough lessons ahead in what is essentially a rebuilding year for the club.
Predicted finish: While their forward pack boasts some of the game's biggest names, the Sharks are manned with a huge task of making the finals considering six of their next seven are away from home. Trips to Newcastle, Townsville, Canberra and New Zealand may all prove too much. 14th or 15th.