Predicted Finish: 4th
Actual Finish: 5th
Best Performer: Paul Gallen
The Sharks skipper recorded stats that saw him edge out Jason Taumalolo for the Dally M lock of the year position. Across the 23 regular season rounds, he ran for 4036 metres, over a thousand more than his closest forward, fellow rep star Andrew Fifita (2950). Over a thousand more metres than Andrew Fifita! Let that sink in. He also made well over 100 more tackles than any other Shark, showing that despite his advancing age, he is still the hardest working forward in rugby league. Whereas in years gone by when Gallen recorded such amazing stats, it didn’t feel as though he overplayed his hand in 2017. Relying more on his younger players and halves, Gallen had a blinder of a 2017.
Season Highlight: Round 17: 44-12 win over the Roosters
The Sharks second half in their huge 44-12 belting of traditional rivals the Roosters was as dominant and pure half of rugby league as we saw all season. Week after week fans waited and waited, convinced a world-beating performance was coming. The second half of this contest was just that. Completing 33 of 37 sets of six across the 80 minutes, the Sharks absolutely punished the Roosters in the second half, ultimately playing them off the park. Wade Graham made over 100 metres and laid on two try assists, with Rick Luetele scoring a double. It seemed that every time the Sharks worked their way into the Roosters red zone, they scored. Leading 20-12 at halftime, the Sharks almost toyed with the well-beaten Roosters at times, pushing the accelerator in the second stanza. This was the kind of football we all expected from the premiers.
Best Signing: Matthew Moylan
The Sharks signed pretty well in 2018 and beyond, and in Matt Moylan, they have a genuine match winner capable of anything. Penrith fans have soured on their former captain after the way he left the club but don’t let that fool you. He recorded the same amount of try assists in the 2017 regular season as Nathan Cleary, despite playing fewer games, and the majority of his season at fullback. In 2016 he had 21 try assists and 27 line break assists, once again from fullback. With a full season in the halves, those numbers could be absolutely anything. Playing behind an all-star forward pack, and playing off a premiership-winning halfback, Moylan can light up the competition in 2018.
Covering/upgrading outs: Out went NSW bench utility Jack Bird. In came current NSW and Kangaroos centre Josh Dugan. Out went NSW five-eight James Maloney. In came a much younger former NSW five-eight in Matt Moylan. The Sharks covered their losses well and probably even upgraded overall. Although they missed out on Mitchell Pearce, ultimately Sharks fans will be happy with the recruitment. They also added Ava Seumanufagai from the Tigers, Braden Uele from the Cowboys, and Aaron Gray from the Bunnies. With the average age of the Sharks pack rising, the two inclusions are a big step forward, while former City representative Gray will be looking to deliver on his undoubted promise.
Securing the future: The Sharks took big steps to secure the future of their playing roster with a spate of re-signings. Kurt Capwell, who looks like he could be something special, added another year to his stay in the Shire. Chad Townsend signed a three-year extension. Wade Graham and Sosai Feki signed until the end of the 2019 season. Andrew Fifita will be a shark until the end of 2020 after a near perfect Origin one saw the club rush to extend his current deal, while Gallen and Lewis signed on for another year. The jewel in the crown though was Valentine Holmes re-signing until the end of 2019. He is the player the Sharks want to build their side around, and who can blame them given his efforts in the World Cup.
Jayden Brailey: There were genuine fears that the Sharks would not be able to replace Michael Ennis, having missed out on a raft of experienced number nines. Although they were never likely to fully replace Ennis, in young Jayden Brailey they have a genuine star on their hands. Brailey did the job in defence, making a mountain of tackles, and popped up in support to score three tries in his debut season. The former NYC player of the year is marked for a monstrous future and showed signs in 2017. He has all the attributes to flourish in the Shire, and seems to have the full support of the club, relegating the far more expected James Segeyaro to the bench all season. One to watch.
Season Grading: B-
2017 feels like a missed opportunity for the Sharks. It was always going to be near impossible to replicate their 2016 historics after losing Ben Barba and Michael Ennis, but when the Sharks produced, they were close to unstoppable.
Unfortunately for fans in black, white and blue, the Sharks sandwiched brilliant performances in between some shockers. They were good enough to pick up wins they probably didn’t deserve on the back of magic from the likes of Maloney, Holmes or Graham, but they didn’t dominate games like they did last season.
We kept waiting for the Sharks attack to click. And we kept waiting … and waiting … and waiting. It never really happened.
There were games where they blew fancied opposition off the park. The destruction in round two in Canberra was akin to men vs boys. They absolutely worked Canberra over and left them embarrassed in front of their own fans, yet a week later they were getting pantsed by local rivals the Dragons.
The 2016 Premiers really missed the ball-playing skill of Ben Barba. His try assists were sorely missed. Valentine Holmes made a good fist of his first full season at fullback, but needs time to develop that part of his game.
The Sharks played finals footy, finished a win outside the four and really should have bounced the Cowboys in round one, so it’s hard to see the season as a failure. That said, given the talent and momentum, to not be playing the second week of finals feels like a letdown.