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It's the dawn of a new era at Cronulla as the torch is passed to an exciting bunch of youthful players.

The Sharks won't have the retired Paul Gallen for the first time in 20 seasons, with Chad Townsend, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham and Jayson Bukuya the only players left from the 2016 premiership team.

The most experienced roster games-wise in 2019, the Sharks now boast only nine players that have notched 40-plus NRL appearances.

The groundwork for the future was laid last year with the likes of Bronson Xerri, Blayke Brailey, Briton Nikora and Braden Hamlin-Uele acquitting themselves well in first grade.

Cronulla haven't missed the finals since 2014 and they'll be aiming to return to the top four following a seventh-place finish.

Home games will have a different feel as the Sharks share Netstrata Jubilee Oval in Kogarah with the Dragons while the Leagues Club adjoining PointsBet Stadium undergoes construction.

The 2020 outlook

What's new

Returning after a year at Newcastle, Jesse Ramien is set to partner teenage sensation Bronson Xerri in the centres, meaning veterans Josh Morris and Josh Dugan will likely compete with youngsters Ronaldo Mulitalo and Sione Katoa for wing spots.

The lock position is up for grabs given Paul Gallen's retirement. Coach John Morris has said that Jack Williams and Billy Magoulias will share time in the role, with training and trial efforts to decide who starts.

Veteran prop Matt Prior's departure to Leeds has freed up a place in the forward pack, seemingly leaving Jayson Bukuya and rookie Toby Rudolf to battle for an interchange spot.

Morris: 'Josh will be here in 2020'

Cameron King has been signed as a back-up hooker to Blayke Brailey - who will take over the No.9 from his brother, Newcastle recruit Jayden - and could play off the bench to give the young rake a spell.

The draw

Cronulla have a tough opening to the competition with clashes against heavyweights South Sydney and Melbourne. They play their first home game at Kogarah versus rivals the Storm in round two.

The Sharks won't have to leave Sydney until round six, however, when they take on Brisbane.

Starting in the midst of the Origin period, Morris's men face a stern test from rounds 15-22, with five of those eight matches being against finalists from last year.

That includes the resurgent Eels (R15); grand finalists Canberra (R16); Manly, who knocked them out of the playoffs (R18); minor premiers Melbourne (R19); and back-to-back champions the Roosters (R22).

The stat that gives you hope

Cronulla were lethal whenever they set up camp inside the opposition's 20-metre zone last year, scoring a try every 8.8 play-the-balls on average. Only the Roosters (8) were better in this regard.

The fact the Sharks managed it despite making the most errors in the league is a positive. If they give themselves more chances to attack by holding the ball, they should have no dramas posting points.

Graham praises Sharks' stance on Morris

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

"Blayke Brailey ($400k) will be one of the most popular options in Fantasy at the start of 2020 after replacing his brother as Cronulla's No.1 hooker option. Jack Williams ($472k) and Braden Hamlin-Uele ($561k) could be the men to step up in the middle of the park after the departures of Paul Gallen and Matt Prior, while Andrew Fifita ($782k) has been a Fantasy gun for years and has upside if he can shake off a niggling knee injury." - Lone Scout

The coach

John Morris endured lots of adversity in his first year and told it made him a "stronger person and a wiser coach".

Having been parachuted into the role only months before the 2019 campaign, Morris will have enjoyed a full pre-season this time around to properly put his stamp on the squad and build culture.

Morris isn't afraid to give youngsters a go - having already handed out six debuts - and he's made it clear that reputations won't be enough to earn selection this year, with the hardest workers to get rewarded.

John Morris talks Josh Morris and Josh Dugan

Contract matters

Cronulla already re-signed premiership-winning halfback Chad Townsend for a further three years but another nine players remain uncontracted for 2021.

That includes Jayson Bukuya, Sione Katoa, Will Kennedy, Kayleb Milne, Josh Morris, Toby Rudolf, Scott Sorensen, Cruz Topai-Aveai and Braydon Trindall.

Morris, who turns 34 in August, has said he will decide whether to retire around the halfway point of the season.

The burning question

How do the Sharks cram so many classy players into their backline?

Jesse Ramien, Bronson Xerri, Josh Dugan, Josh Morris, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Sione Katoa, William Kennedy and Matt Moylan are vying for five jumpers.

It's an enviable conundrum but some hard decisions will have to be made.

Sharks' top five tries of 2019

Breakout player to watch

It's hard to go past Billy Magoulias.

A gifted ball-playing lock, the 22-year-old will help fill the gap left by Paul Gallen and may well earn a starting spot.

With the ability to play hooker or five-eighth if necessary, Magoulias would also be a very handy bench utility.

Keep an eye on Toby Rudolf, too. The aggressive prop/second-rower is desperate to debut and has the makings of a successful first-grader.

Five key match-ups of the Sharks' 2020 draw

The quote

"We lost seven games by two points or less, which was the second highest amount in the competition. So we've got to be better at winning those tight games.

"But five of those games we scored more tries and got beat. If we won a couple of those games - and I won't put it down to goal-kicking - we finish in the top four and everyone's saying what a great year the Sharks had.

"And that's the NRL. We had a shocking injury toll to our top five players on the salary cap ... I'd say to Sharks fans: look at what we did with that adversity. Now we've got to keep those guys on the field and bring these young guys through."

 - John Morris

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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