Sunday, January 11, 2015

Time for Sharks to shape up

The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are at a pivotal point in their club’s history, with long-term viability and short term success on their future’s menu. They will be looking to move past the darkest era the club has ever faced and establish a new period of success under returning and suspension free Head Coach, Shane Flanagan. New signing’s, off-field developments and Flanagan’s mentality could see the Sharks have a club turning season in 2015.

The cliché is that winning starts in the front office, so is Lyall Gorman the Sharks most important signing?
The demoralising two-year ASADA drug investigation into the club dragged the players, staff, members and fans through a period of uncertainty and a cloud of darkness that hung over the Shire for far too long. Head Coach Shane Flanagan served his ban for over 12 months, Assistant Coach Peter Sharp’s health saw him stand down, Paul Gallen lost his way trying to stand up for the club he loves, Chief Executive Steve Noyce was moved on, and Todd Carney let his career go down the urinal.

Although they left 2014 with a wooden spoon, the bitter taste of running last shouldn’t deter them from looking back for positives. Wins against finals series-contending sides the Broncos, Roosters and Panthers midway through the season when no one was giving them a chance, proved the fight still left in the black, white and blue. This period also allowed Sharks youngsters to emerge and offer glimpses of hope for long suffering fans. Wingers, Jacob Gagan and Valentine Holmes, the later an Australian Junior Kangaroo in 2014, showed that talent continues to pop up at the Sharks, who have one of the largest junior Rugby League catchments in Sydney.
With players from the 2011 season who are still are the club having served their bans, Cronulla will finally be able to enter the season with a fresh start. They will also be joined by another wave of new signings including highly creditable additions of Michael Ennis and Ben Barba. Notably, Kyle Stanley and Gerard Beale will move over from St. George-Illawarra, and Mitch Brown joins the squad from the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. Great additions to a team already boasting Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington, but the problem in years gone by involving recruits to the Shire, is that they come from other clubs as lively and prospective signings, but seem to drop away and put simply, diminish at the Sharks. Examples include Wests Tigers centre Blake Ayshford and Dragons premiership winner Matt Prior. League fans from all over will recall them starring for their former clubs, but at the sharks, they offered very little. The absence of a Head Coach last year cuts such recruits some slack, but why does this continue to happen at Cronulla? Why do these players end up like this? Is the culture and coaching system not where it should be?
Critical to the Sharks season in 2015 will be the mindset of Flanagan. Will he have the Sharks run with an attitude of being beaten into the ground for the last two seasons and adopt a siege mentality, much like Des Hasler’s Manly teams?
Such a style might suit new recruit Mick Ennis, who is a nitty-gritty competitor who does all he can to get a win. Ben Barba will also be out with a point to prove having had a poor season at the Broncos in 2014 and been dumped by Wayne Bennet before pre season.
Flanagan may simply opt to move on from the past, learn from it and implement new ideas and structures to suit his squad. The recent naming of Luke Lewis as captain of the team for the Auckland Nines could be an indication of Flanagan’s new plans, with Paul Gallen in the spotlight since his infamous tweet to those at NRL headquarters late last year. Mick Ennis could be an option to lead the team if Flanagan’s chooses for Paul Gallen to simply play his game, rather than have the added responsibilities of captain. Gallen, who plays in almost every league game possible being a NSW and Australian representative, could benefit from a lesser role.
The approaching development of the Woolooware Bay project around Remondis Stadium will be an interesting parallel to the Sharks season. Revamping the entire area around the Sharks home and providing much needed long-term financial support, the development could be seen as the dawn of a new era at the Shire. The club will also benefit significantly under the leadership of new Chief Executive Lyall Gorman, who managed the introduction of the Western Sydney Wanderers to the A-League as Executive Chairman. Gorman, who was also previously the head of the A-league competition and Chairman of the Central Coast Mariners, brings a unique set of skills to the Rugby League scene, and signalled his intentions to focus on getting on with the job rather than skylarking about bold predictions, hosting fan based forums in the shire just a week after taking up the role.
The Sharks could look at Phil Gould’s much talked about five year plan for Penrith and adopt their own steps for success, with a focus on retaining juniors who you always hear about starring at another NRL club as a ‘former Sharks junior’, keeping the team out of the spotlight and working towards that long sought after premiership from within. While achieving success in a short period will win you the tag-along fans, long term survival and providing fans with a reason to believe you are building to something special should be at the forefront for the club.
This is the year that Cronulla finally has to step up and stamp its place as a club that can support its self, and compete in the dense Sydney NRL market. Expansion is undoubtedly on the minds of those who run the NRL, and relocation has been more than just thrown up. There are no excuses this time around; it’s time Cronulla proved their worth to the NRL competition as a club.
Exciting, but important times are ahead for the Sharks this year. #UpUpCronulla.