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Fight in Sharks' future stars makes 2020 worth the pain

Cronulla's cohort of talented local juniors and late bloomers showed the right kind of minerals in a fighting finals loss to Canberra that came amid a mountain of adversity, much like their entire 2020 campaign.

Coach John Morris was not taking any liberties when he declared "everyone wrote us off except ourselves" leading into Saturday's clash with the Raiders at GIO Stadium.

The Sharks gave the home side an almighty scare by jumping to a 14-6 lead shortly before half-time, only to be run down 32-20 with injuries to Blayke Brailey (ankle) and Scott Sorensen (groin/hamstring) leaving Morris with just 15 fit players.

It's a story Morris has grown accustomed to in his two years at the helm of Cronulla, with everything from salary cap and drug scandals to a bulging casualty ward coming his way in that time.

Much-deserved extension talks beyond 2021 were kicked off with the coach, and then shelved until the end of the season, as a result of Morris' achievements under that adversity.

Match Highlights: Raiders v Sharks

But whispers of a return for Shane Flanagan or Paul Green to the club still won't go away.

For Morris though, the Sharks well and truly have a future in the talent they have nurtured throughout his tenure, despite navigating a veritable SAS obstacle course of distractions.

"That was a really tough game and we've had a really tough year," he said.

"Before a ball was even kicked this year we had to release Matt Prior, released Josh Morris, then we had the break for the coronavirus.

Katoa intercepts a pass to score late in the match

"We came back and lost our star player in Bronson Xerri, you take that sort of talent and experience out of any roster, it's going to hurt you.

"Then we take the field without Shaun Johnson, without Royce Hunt, Matt Moylan, I could go on and on with the adversity that's been around us this year.

"And it was there last year and we've played finals two years [in a row] amongst all that. We need to take the positives out of that."

The positives for Morris abound in the development of youngsters Will Kennedy, Sione Katoa, Ronaldo Mulitalo and Blayke Brailey.

So too the eventual rises of Toby Rudolf and Siosifa Talakai, plus the resurgences of Jesse Ramien and Shaun Johnson, the latter proving a sight for sore eyes regardless of the team you support.

Questions remain around not only Morris' future but that of big name, big earners like Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan and Andrew Fifita, with the first two as well as Johnson all off-contract as of November 1.

Elusive Tracey gets Mulitalo a try

Again, it's a scenario that has been the case all year for Cronulla. Their future looks bright, once they sort out the other end of their roster.

"We're working with a really young playing group," Morris said.

"We only had five or six guys out there [against Canberra] with more than 50 or 60 games worth of experience...

"It's about what we learn out of these moments.

"It hurts and I felt like we could have got the win... but it’s a good learning curve for these youngsters who are going to be the future of our club that we need to be excited about as well."

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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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