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Equal-last to finals fight has Sharks talking new Morris deal

Cronulla's nine-week run from a share of equal last to the verge of a second-straight finals appearance under John Morris has seen the club kick off extension talks with the Sharks coach.

Midway through June a 1-4 start to the year and an underwhelming loss to local rivals St George Illawarra had both Cronulla and Morris under the pump with the same points tally as the Dragons, Bulldogs and Titans.

Bulldogs coach Dean Pay, Dragons mentor Paul McGregor, North Queensland's Paul Green and the Warriors' Stephen Kearney have all been casualties of the most brutal coaching season in history, with four NRL coaches sacked or resigning in the first 14 weeks of 2020.

Since that Dragons loss the Sharks have gone on a 7-2 run leading into Friday's clash against Penrith.

Now with Cronulla sitting seventh and likely needing another three wins from six games to make the finals, Morris is set to shore up his future as a deserved reward.

NRL.com understands preliminary talks around a one or two-year deal have been held between Sharks officials and Morris's management.

Panthers v Sharks - Round 15

Cronulla hierarchy chose not to comment on Morris's contract situation when contacted on Wednesday.

But when pressure was at its most intense in June, CEO Dino Mezzatesta was emphatic that Morris was not in any danger, at the time declaring "Bomber is our coach, he is our coach this year, he'll be our coach next year".

Morris is already contracted until the end of 2021, with talks beginning about extended that through for another 12 or 24 months.

It's believed a salary upgrade will also be negotiated given Morris's initial contract in 2019 ranks among the cheapest of the NRL's 16 head coaches.

At the time of Cronulla's lowest ebb this year the likes of Green and rugby union maestro Eddie Jones were being linked to the Sharks.

But despite numerous hurdles Morris has guided Cronulla into the top eight, where they currently sit four points clear of the ninth-placed Wests Tigers.

An upset of the ladder leading Panthers this week would even have the Sharks challenging Canberra and the Roosters for an all-important top-four berth.

The Sharks are still yet to beat another top-eight side this season, though aside from a 56-24 trouncing the last time they played Penrith, their losses to South Sydney (18-22), Melbourne (10-12) and Parramatta (12-14) have all been by the barest of margins.

Sharks out for revenge on the Panthers

Cronulla's resurgence under Morris has also come under significant duress this year.

Bronson Xerri's ASADA suspension has not only cost the Sharks their most dynamic outside back, but also seen the club continue to carry his salary in their cap.

That same salary cap is also hindered by the second year of a $350,000 punishment that was handed down when Morris's predecessor Shane Flanagan was banned for breaching the terms of his previous NRL suspension.

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