Rookie Cronulla coach John Morris expects his team to keep rolling with the punches and maintain their status as title contenders, despite having to operate under a reduced salary cap for the next two seasons.
A day after they were hit with a $1.25million salary cap fine, of which $500,000 was suspended, and learned they must release some players to become cap-compliant, the Sharks outclassed a disappointing Newcastle outfit 30-6 in their final pre-season trial at Maitland on Saturday night.
Morris, who has replaced premiership-winning mentor Shane Flanagan, was not surprised by his team's ability to distance themselves from their latest drama and focus on football because they have been battle-hardened after years of dealing with off-field crises.
"I mean, it's not great, but it gives us some clarity, I guess," Morris told the media after the five-tries-to-one victory over the Knights.
"We now know exactly what we're looking at, and putting the necessary plans in place to get into round one and get the two points on offer."
Asked about any specific impact on the Cronulla playing roster, Morris said: "We still don't know. We've got our salary cap manager working through that [with] Barry Russell, our CEO."
Morris said the Sharks were on their way to Maitland on Friday when they learned of their fate and were considering all options "to make sure that we can put a team on the park in round one".
"Unfortunately they've had a bit to deal with in the last couple of years at the club, and they know when times are tough that they can pull together and focus on their game and get the job done," he said.
"The senior boys are crucial in that – Wade Graham and Paul Gallen – to rally the troops and keep their mind on the job and I expect no different leading into the season.
"They had my appointment as head coach as a bit of a distraction as well but they were good, and they kept working, and turning up every day and focusing on the job, so I've been super-impressed with the pre-season we've had, even though we've had a fair set of challenges.
"We've managed to keep preparing well and we showed today that we can still put our best foot forward. I've got high expectations of the group, as they have of themselves, so if we play to our ability, I'm confident this team can play real well this year."
Match: Knights v Sharks
Round 3 -
Venue: Maitland Sports Ground, Newcastle
Morris said centre Josh Dugan had recovered from the head knock he suffered when he tackled Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce midway through the first half and had to be replaced.
"He got ruled out straight away, because it was quite a decent head knock," Morris said.
"He's all right now though."
Morris was most pleased with Cronulla's defensive performance, holding Newcastle to one try, and was impressed with Shaun Johnson's first appearance in Sharks colours.
The Sharks will return to the Hunter on March 15 to play the Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium in the opening round of the Telstra Premiership.
"It was good for some of our new recruits to get out there. That's the first time they've actually played together," Morris said.
"It kind of rounds out our preparations and we're back up here in two weeks."