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Loyal to a fault: Morris deserved better than being dudded

Whether you believe John Morris is a dud coach or a coach who got dudded, one thing you can take to the bank is his sacking was poorly handled by the Sharks.

With their team sitting 2-3 after five rounds and having come within an ace of beating heavyweights Canberra and the Roosters, the head honchos in the Sutherland Shire decided it was time to sign Craig Fitzgibbon and tell Morris his services were no longer required.

Never mind the fact Morris has been in the Sharks' coaching system since retiring as a player in 2014, helping nurture the talented youngsters who would become the nucleus of the NYC side he took to a minor premiership in 2017.

Never mind the fact Morris was voted NYC coach of the year in 2017 and had six of his players - Sione Katoa, Jesse Ramien, Kyle Flanagan, Briton Nikora, Billy Magoulias and Blayke Brailey - named in the Holden Cup team of the year.

Fitzgibbon backed to succeed by Robinson

Never mind the fact that Morris had stepped into the breach in the club's hour of need in 2019 after Shane Flanagan had been deregistered, taking his team to the finals that year and again in 2020.

Never mind the fact that in both those seasons he operated with one hand tied behind his back in regards to the salary cap thanks to previous breaches by the club, and was paid a pittance by the Sharks relative to other NRL head coaches.

One of the knocks on Morris is that his record against the big six - Rabbitohs, Roosters, Raiders, Storm, Eels, Panthers - was zero wins and eight losses in 2020, including a 12-point loss to Canberra in week one of the finals which ended  Cronulla's season.

On closer inspection you'll see they came within four points of beating Souths in round one last year, storming back from 22-8 down with 20 minutes to go to lose 22-18.

And the following week it was one try apiece in a 12-10 loss to arch-rivals Melbourne, the team that would go on to win the premiership.

In round 13 they lost to the Eels by two points at Kogarah despite scoring three tries to two.

Had they landed a couple of goals that night they would have been nestled in fifth place with seven rounds to play.

Take a look at South Sydney's record against the other five heavyweights in 2020 and you'll see they won just two of seven in the regular season before accounting for the Eels in week two of the finals and bowing out to Penrith a week later. 

The Bunnies lost twice to the Storm and twice to the Panthers last year but that doesn't mean you throw the Benny out with the bathwater.

Analysis: What Fitzgibbon's signing means for the Sharks

In the final analysis, the Sharks got into eighth spot with a 10-10 record, despite losing Bronson Xerri to a performance-enhancing drugs ban, Josh Morris to the Roosters and star playmaker Shaun Johnson to an Achilles injury with the finals in sight.

On a number of occasions during the 2020 campaign Morris requested talks with management to sort out his future but he couldn't get a hearing until matters came to a head this week.

Clearly the Sharks had decided he wasn't the man to take the club forward, despite the fact he had built strong relationships with senior men Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend.

And the work was starting to bear fruit from the many hours he put into Ramien, Brailey, Katoa, Nikora and Magoulias back in 2017 and the likes of Will Kennedy, Brayden Trindall, Royce Hunt and Teig Wilton in more recent times.

Hannay ready for a second coach audition

"If I was at the club next year I'd love for Bomber [Morris] to be around because for me personally, he's definitely brought a better version of myself out," Johnson told Fox League on Monday.

"Coming over from New Zealand, what I got with Bomber was someone who genuinely believed in me and pushed me every day.

"You look what he's done, he hasn't had any control over the roster, he's been in a situation where our cap has been shot the past few years and he's just made do and got us all on board."

Whether his players were on board or not, the powerbrokers were not, and Morris's position very quickly became untenable this week as Fitzgibbon put pen to paper on a three-year deal and Josh Hannay was installed as interim coach for the remainder of 2021.

Fitzgibbon has long been touted as the next NRL coach in waiting and it's the Sharks who will get first use of his extensive knowledge and boundless enthusiasm in 2022 before the pressure and expectation weighs him down like it does every man brave enough to tackle the toughest of gigs.

A reputation as formidable as the one Fitzgibbon has earned does not come overnight.

He has been Trent Robinson’s right-hand man since 2013 and was chased by the Knights, Warriors and Dragons to be their head coach before finally deciding the time was right to take the leap next year.

There seems little doubt Fitzgibbon will be a success once the Sharks cut loose some of the dead wood in their roster and pin their faith in an array of talented youngsters who cut their teeth under the man who has figuratively just had his kicked in by the club he served so passionately as a player and coach.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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