Ennis hoping to pick up where he left off
Sharks hooker Michael Ennis is hoping his second year in the Shire is just as enjoyable and productive as his first, when he helped the club return to the NRL finals with a dominant season including an amazing 18 try assists.
That figure was easily the most by a hooker (next best was Raider Josh Hodgson, with 12) or a Shark (next was Jack Bird, with seven). In a list dominated by halves, he was also the only man in the top nine not to spend the year with a 6 or 7 on his back.
Looking back, Ennis said he was surprised just how quickly he gelled with his new teammates after six seasons at Canterbury, and praised coach Shane Flanagan for his management of the squad's playing style.
"It surprised me to be honest, how quickly I gelled with certain guys in the team. I just really got back to really enjoying my footy," Ennis told NRL.com.
"'Flanno' was really precise with the role and the style of footy he wanted me to play and I think it just really suited the style of footy that I like to play and I got some rewards on the back of it.
"The forward pack we've got here certainly lay a good platform every week for you to play on the back of and those combinations certainly built throughout the year and it was really, really enjoyable."
Ennis formed a formidable combination with fellow veteran, edge forward Luke Lewis, repeatedly sending him over for tries with deft short balls out of dummy half. Lewis finished the year with 11 tries from 22 games – the best return of any forward in the competition (Cowboy Gavin Cooper also notched 11, but from an extra five games).
Ennis said Lewis had contributed to his own strong form as much as any other person, describing the former NSW and Kangaroos utility as a good a player as any Ennis had played with.
"It feels like we've been playing together for 10 years. We played against each other as young kids and when I came over we teamed up and when you've got someone like him that pushes into holes and runs lines the way he does, he's as good a player as I've ever played with and still at 31, 32 years of age he's still playing like a 25 year old so it's awesome for me to have someone like that pushing into holes," Ennis said.
"But guys like Sammy Tagataese and Chris Heighington and big Andrew Fifita and Gal, those guys, we all sort of started to get it moving toward that middle part of the year and it continued on for us through the back end. I felt like I was 21 again.
"The list goes on, Wade [Graham] was brilliant for us this year and we started to strike up a combination toward the back end of the year. You add in [new recruits] Joey Paulo and Jesse [Sene-Lefao] and those guys now, it's handy to know they're in front of you for sure."
Outside of the forward pack, Ennis was excited by the way the club had recruited over the off-season – notably Ipswich youngsters Kurt Capewell and Josh Cleeland.
"Ipswich had a really successful year in the Queensland Cup so we've been lucky enough to a couple of guys out of that team and then a few new faces," he said.
"We've got some really good young kids coming through the system at the moment and they get their opportunity to train over the summer. It's a good time of year to get a bit of an understanding of their background and how hard they've had to work to get here. It provides a lot of enthusiasm for us older guys as well.
"There's a good balance here. Flanno's really big on that. He's gone and targeted a few areas where he thought we needed to pick up some guys. Jesse and Sefa especially will add a lot to our side but then again there's a few young kids there – we saw Valentine come through this year and there's a few other young kids starting to come on and develop that could be handy to the team long term that's for sure."
They may not strictly be new recruits but the return to the playing field of utility Nu Brown and winger Jacob Gagan will also be a boost for Cronulla after each had their 2015 campaigns ruined by injury.
"Nu, unfortunately, he showed a lot of promise in 2014 but then obviously '15 was a troubled year for him with his knee injury and he's certainly a talent. And I've got a massive rap on Jacob Gagan. He was outstanding in the trial game against Manly [in the 2015 pre-season].
"He's just had an awful run with hamstring problems but the high performance staff here have really stripped him back to the basics to try and get on top of it. He's almost been personally trained now for 14 months now so he's a real handy player to have waiting in the wings. If he gets his opportunity he's shown before he can really grasp it. He's big and powerful and you need that from wingers these days."