Flanagan still unsure how to replace Ennis
Relaxing on the Gold Coast and ready to move on from Cronulla's premiership season of 2016, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan admits his greatest conundrum heading into the new year is how to replace retired No.9 Michael Ennis.
An abrasive character on the field, Ennis was in many ways the final ingredient the Sharks needed to become winners in their 50th season and his impending absence from the team for Round 1 has left Flanagan with a number of options to siphon through.
The club has signed Manaia Cherrington (Wests Tigers) and Daniel Mortimer (Titans) over the off-season, has outstanding prospect Jayden Brailey ready to step up after being named the Holden Cup Player of the Year this year and elevated into the NRL squad while the versatile Fa'amanu Brown also remains in the mix.
Having taken on a mentoring role with the club Ennis could very well have a significant say in who succeeds him in the Sharks' engine room but for now Flanagan admits that it is a question he has no obvious answer to.
"There are a few things we need to fix up obviously. The glaring one is who is going to replace Michael [Ennis] but I'm sure we'll get there in time," Flanagan told Sharks TV.
"We've got some choices there. Obviously there's Manaia Cherrington and Jayden Brailey, two genuine No.9s but Mortimer can play there.
"Daniel has been hurt, he hurt his hamstring and hasn't been in the main training group but he can play seven, six and nine and we've bought him for that utility value. He can put a bit of pressure on Chad and Jimmy as well and Nu Brown can play six, seven and nine as well.
"We'll just see how they trial. They're all champing at the bit to get first crack at it but I'm undecided at this stage. The trials and Nines will probably tell."
Listed in NRL Fantasy pricing at $143,000 Cherrington represents tremendous value if he gets greater game-time than he was afforded at the Tigers but whoever wears the No.9 jersey in Round 1 against the Broncos will be a bargain buy.
Finding a new hooker is not Flanagan's only puzzle to solve with the departure of Ben Barba leaving the fullback position an apparent race in two between Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird.
Both Holmes and Bird burst onto the representative scene in 2016 to great success and while Holmes would appear the obvious choice, Flanagan likes what Bird can bring to the position.
"Val is probably everyone's first-choice fullback but 'Birdy' does that fullback role really well," Flanagan said.
"He finds it comfortable and he gets to roam both sides of the field. Unfortunately with Birdy playing right centre sometimes he gets locked in there and his strength is turning up everywhere.
"From a team structure point of view Val could possibly be the best one but I'm not striking Birdy off that list just yet.
"There'll be speculation over Christmas to when we start playing as to who is going to be that fullback – like there was last year – and I'll just let them speculate and you'll have to turn up on that Thursday night [in Round 1]."
Video first appeared on Sharks.com.au