Sharks 2015 season review
The Cronulla Sharks failed to deliver their passionate fans a maiden club premiership but once the dust settles on a hugely disappointing semi-final loss, 2015 will go down as a landmark season for the Shire club.
Just one year after the club was forced to its knees by a debilitating drugs saga, Shane Flanagan's effort to get his side to the semi-finals was an amazing effort.
The Sharks had a horror start to the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership, as they went down in heartbreaking fashion in four-straight games, leaving many to suggest they'd be picking up their second-straight wooden spoon.
However that would have been a travesty considering the class and experience in the Sharks outfit, especially in their forward pack where the likes of Michael Ennis, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita and of course Paul Gallen made up one of the NRL's toughest middle units.
When the Sharks do look to 2016, there will be many welcome selection headaches.
The arrivals of James Maloney and Chad Townsend will certainly make them one of the premiership favourites, especially considering the Sharks have minimal losses from their 2015 stocks.
So while the bitterly disappointing 39-0 semi-final exit at the hands of the Cowboys will burn deeply in the hearts of the Cronulla faithful for weeks and maybe months to come, those feelings should soon turn to excitement and hope.
Where They Excelled: The arm wrestle. The Sharks are built for tight, grinding matches. Aside from Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird, their side doesn't consist of flashy players.
There was no time more evident of this than the famous 'Sharknado' game, where they faced a Rabbitohs team famous for their ability to bash opponents and grind out victories with their forwards. But the Sharks had other ideas on this torrential Monday night and played the conditions absolutely perfectly.
They would have been hoping all their remaining games were played in similar conditions, it certainly could have helped them up in Townsville in the finals, as their grinding style was viciously exposed by a fast paced Cowboys team.
Where They Struggled: If you had to find a weak link in the impressive Sharks team it would have to be their halves. Yes the Sharks attack was still hugely impressive at most stages of the season, however too much of the attacking impetus came through Michael Ennis and Valentine Holmes. Jeff Robson is a calm and controlled halfback with a great defensive game, nothing less and not much more. Meanwhile, Jack Bird was at times brilliant in his rookie season, but against quality position he had nowhere near the necessary attacking arsenal. No wonder the club went so hard at bringing in two tried and tested halves for next season.
Missing In Action: The Sharks weren't too heavily affected by injury this season, their most high profile setback being Paul Gallen's infamous gluteus injury sustained in the lead up to Round 5. The injury lingered with Gal for far too long as he attempted to play through the pain, and he finally returned to NRL footy in Round 13, eight weeks after the initial injury.
Anthony Tupou's horrific broken jaw was one of the most memorable injuries of the season, after his face wore the full force of a barnstorming Konrad Hurrell's knee.
Turning Point: The Round 5 victory over the Roosters was one of the biggest upsets in the 2015 NRL season. Jack Bird in just his second game in first grade dominated, scoring two tries to hand his team a 20-12 point victory, their first of the season after four straight losses. Against the most star-studded team in the competition, this result was huge, proving the Sharks had the potential to be genuine contenders in 2015.
Hold Your Head High: Jack Bird. He provided a spark as the Sharks season looked to be heading downhill very fast. With the Ben Barba five-eighth experiment falling flat, Bird came in and never took a backward step.
He provided everything that Cronulla needed at that early stage in the season and most importantly gave the rest of his side hope as he almost single-handedly led his team to victory in his first few games. From there his teammates began to realise their own potential as Bird began to settle more into his own role.
2016 Crystal Ball: Things are shaping up nicely for Cronulla. With Michael Gordon the only major departure ahead of next year, and class halves Maloney and Townsend coming into the squad, the Sharks should be hoping for nothing less than a top-four finish next season. Their charge to the top will also be fuelled by the suggestion it may be Paul Gallen's final season with the club, after he struggled to come to terms on a one-year extension during 2015.
The supplements saga is well and truly behind them and the off-field management is growing stronger. Sharks fans should be expecting great things.
Conclusion: The Sharks may well have shown more character in 2015 than any other team in the competition. One year after the supplements scandal, they started the season in horrific fashion. From there things could really have deteriorated further, but the boys in black and blue refused to let their season slip away.
With a hugely underrated set of young backs, a tough as nails forward pack, and two class playmakers coming in next year, the boys from the Shire are building a squad that could finally deliver that elusive premiership title.
Position (after 26 rounds): 6th
Home Record: 7 wins, 5 losses
Away Record: 7 wins, 5 losses
Longest Winning Streak: 5 (Rounds 18-22)
Longest Losing Streak: 4 (Rounds 1-4)
Players Used: 26
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 77
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 79