Cronulla’s bold bid to lure Craig Bellamy to the Sutherland Shire is the latest step towards finally putting a stop to cruel jibes about the club relocating to become the Perth Sharks.
Just a week after their stunning capture of St George Illawarra captain Cameron McInnes on a four-year deal, the Sharks shocked the NRL world on Saturday by confirming they had been in secret talks with Bellamy for more than six months.
The move is not expected to have any impact on the position of coach John Morris, who is off contract at the end of the season, but could have huge ramifications for the future of the Sharks on and off the field.
While few had anticipated McInnes would leave the Dragons to play lock at Cronulla from 2022, no one outside those in the Woolooware club’s inner-sanctum had considered the possibility of Bellamy joining the Sharks when he departs Melbourne at the end of the season.
After all Cronulla is a club who only two years ago had to undergo a round of redundancies after posting a $3 million loss that again raised fears about the viability of the Sharks and suggestions they should relocate to Perth or South-East Queensland.
Match Highlights: Sharks v Dragons
McInnes was the first big-name recruit targeted by the Sharks when off contract since Ricky Stuart snared representative forward Anthony Tupou from the Sydney Roosters in 2009.
Even when Shane Flanagan guided Cronulla to their only premiership in 2016, he did so with a team whose star players – including Ben Barba, Michael Ennis, Luke Lewis, James Maloney and Andrew Fifita – had joined the Sharks on the rebound from rival clubs.
Book-ending their grand final triumph were the 2011 peptides scandal, which emerged in 2013, and the salary cap rorts of 2017 that forced the Sharks to play the past two seasons with a roster valued at $350,000 less than their rivals.
Yet under the leadership of CEO Dino Mezzatesta, who shifted into the role last March after nearly two years as Cronulla chairman, the Sharks are striving to fulfil a privately held ambition of being one of the NRL’s leading clubs within five years.
With Cronulla’s finances bolstered by the sale of the club’s interest in the development adjoining PointsBet Stadium, they are rebuilding their leagues club and last month announced a two-year sponsorship deal with Aramex Australia.
The approach to Bellamy would provide a massive boost to Cronulla’s ability to attract more sponsors and players, and demonstrates the club is prepared to aggressively pursue any opportunity that arises.
Go for the best option
The Sharks were drawing up a list of potential candidates for a coaching director’s role midway through last year when Bellamy’s name came up after he had declared that 2021 would be his last season in charge of the Storm.
It might have seemed fanciful to most outsiders - and even some within the club rolled their eyes in disbelief - but Bellamy was identified as the preferred option because of the impact he could have on Cronulla’s commercial operations and ability to recruit star players.
Mezzatesta was then charged with contacting Bellamy about Cronulla’s vision and the opportunity to come to a club whose long and short term fortunes he could have a significant influence on.
While Cronulla can’t compete with the money Brisbane are prepared to throw at Bellamy in a coaching director’s role, they can offer him the chance to be involved in the commercial aspects of the club and to act as a mentor for their coaches, possibly including Morris.
Bellamy is understood to have liked what he heard and the Sharks were encouraged by the fact that he has so far not said no.
However, they are prepared to give him as much time as he needs to make a decision as his wife Wendy has been battling a health issue since late last year, and had carefully protected their secret negotiations with him from the media.
If Bellamy turns down Cronulla, the Sharks will simply look to other candidates but there are few in the game with the attributes the multiple premiership-winning mentor offers.
Morris call a major decision
The Sharks plan to make a call on whether to retain Morris as coach after the NRL season starts and Bellamy is not expected to have any impact on that decision, particularly as he may still be considering his own future.
With the likes of Flanagan, Craig Fitzgibbon, Cameron Ciraldo and Steve Price linked to the club before revelations that the Sharks had been talking to Bellamy, Morris could not be blamed for being insecure about his job.
Morris has guided Cronulla to back-to-back finals appearances in the two seasons since he was parachuted into the job after Flanagan’s second NRL suspension, despite salary cap constraints and heavy injury toll involving some of his most experienced players.
However, Cronulla are determined not to be rushed into making an early call on their next coach and want to see how the side performs under Morris at the start of the season, as well as his ability to recruit and retain players.
Officials insist that does mean they are looking to replace Morris but the club is aware of other coaching options.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.