Cronulla were one of the most consistent sides for all of last year – but at the final two hurdles, they collapsed.
All it took was a narrow loss to the Cowboys and a disappointing display against the Rabbitohs for the hard work to come undone for the Sharks, with rookie boss Craig Fitzgibbon watching his side bounce out in straight-sets.
But with setbacks comes experience and motivation according to premiership great Michael Ennis, who was at the forefront of Cronulla’s first title in 2016.
Speaking to The Sporting News at the recent Fox League season launch, the club’s elite pathways manager spoke highly of their trial form and believes they are primed for a second trophy in 2023.
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“I think some of the top sides have come back to the pack a little bit – I’ll go Cronulla for premiers, they have been impressive in the trials and I like what they are about,” he said
“I just think the experience of falling out of the finals and watching their response and the way that they’ve trained just shows that they are hungry.
“They are 18 months into Craig Fitzgibbon’s coaching regime now – they know what it looks like and they know what he expects. He has got great staff around him and the squad has now played together and there hasn’t been a lot of change.
“There’s some good depth now with guys like Kayal Iro and those other young guys, it was a shame about young [Kade] Dykes because he is a great young prospect.
“The roster is young, it’s athletic and that’s where the game is at the moment. You sprinkle in a bit of experience with guys like [Dale] Finucane, Wade Graham, Cameron McInnes and those type of real leaders on effort.
“I think they will have a good year Cronulla.”
The roster remains stable following a strong campaign, with representative front-rower Oregon Kaufusi joining the ranks from last year’s grand finalists Parramatta.
Nicho Hynes and Matt Moylan have struck up an impressive combination in the halves, producing 33 try assists between them and leading the side to the top-four.
With a strong outside back cartel and an even mix of both experience and youth in their forward pack, there is plenty to like about the Sharks heading into the year.
Fox League commentator and expert Matty Johns is also high on Cronulla and believes the issues from their semi-final disaster against South Sydney have been rectified.
“I really like the Sharks – I thought the Sharks looked fantastic,” he told The Sporting News.
“The style of football they are playing – Fitzy is a really good coach and I reckon they learnt a lot from the back-end of last year.
“When they got to the big games in those semi-finals, they played too sideways and went away from what they do best. Watching them in the trials, you can see Fitzy has really worked on that.
“I think they are a real smokey.”
Cronulla will kick off their season against – you guessed it – the red and green Rabbitohs on Saturday, March 4th.
Fox League is available to watch on Foxtel and Kayo Sports.