They say it is near impossible for a side to go back-to-back in this day and age, and the Sharks 2017 season proved that to a tee. They managed to finish fifth and ‘host’ a first round semi-final against the Cowboys, but they never really got going.
Missing Barba and Ennis, while the likes of Maloney, Bird and Holmes failed to find their dizzying 2016 heights, fans waited and waited for the Sharks to click into gear. Although they had some mouth watering performances, the extra gear was never found and they were bounced in the first week of the finals.
The Sharks became a frustrating side to watch as their discipline went out the window. Penalties and drop ball had fans looking for answers and despite promises from Shane Flanagan and co. the premiership hangover was just too hard to shake.
After losing Jack Bird, the Sharks were aggressive in replacing him with current Blues and Kangaroos centre Josh Dugan. They managed to re-sign the likes of Gallen, Fifita, Townsend, Graham and Holmes, so the bulk of their 2016 premiership winning side remains.
Recruitment Grading: B+
The Sharks have swapped a current NSW utility with the starting Blues and Kangaroos centre. They’ve swapped a 30+ NSW half for a 26 year-old former Origin player with unlimited potential. They’ve also brought in two young props to replace departing players winding down their careers. Aaron Gray comes in for Gerard Beale. You could argue the Sharks have upgraded a few positions and have brought in a much needed injection of younger players. The key is that the Sharks have created competition for spots. Given the undoubted ability possessed by players graduating from their runaway Minor Premiership NYC team, the Sharks have plenty of options around the park in pretty much every position. If they can add Trent Hodkinson it will push this to an A mark and will allow Shane Flanagan an almost unmatched ability so shuffle players if the side starts slowly.
Star Player: Paul Gallen
Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan are huge stars capable of amazing things, while Valentine Holmes, Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham were stand outs in the recent World Cup, but Paul Gallen is the man once again in the Shire. If he can continue to make big metres and produce quick play the balls and the occasional offload, the Sharks are a MUCH better side. The rugby league world is waiting for the 2016 premiership winning captain to slow down, but it looks as though the decision to retire from rep footy has reinvigorated the Sharks legend. He had another incredible 2017 and edged out Jason Taumalolo for the lock of the year position. His work rate will be extremely valuable, and his experience invaluable as the Shire-based side look to return deep into the finals in 2018.
Where will the Sharks finish in 2018? @zerotackle
— Moylan Mania 🍍 (@suthodan) January 25, 2018
Strength: Strike weapons
Valentine Holmes was one of the stars of the World Cup setting try-scoring records that had to be seen to be believed. Josh Dugan was arguably the Kangaroos best on field in the World Cup final. He certainly pulled off the play of the World Cup final in saving a game changing try with a brilliant defensive effort. Jayden Brailey is already being talked about as a future Origin star despite one season in the top grade. Matt Moylan had more line break assists than Cooper Cronk in 2015, from fullback. Andrew Fifita is the most destructive front rower in the game. Throw in Wade Graham, Chad Townsend and some freakish young talent, and the Sharks should not struggle to score points in 2018. I’m extremely excited for the potential Moylan/Holmes link up partnership, while Dugan should absolutely feed off the likes of Fifita and Gallen’s offloads and quick play the balls.
Weakness: Largely untested key positions
The biggest question for the Sharks this year will be how their star recruits settle in. Matt Moylan is a wonderful player but he is yet to play a full season in the halves. He had some success wearing the number six for the Panthers and did win an Origin game in the position, but playing 25 rounds in the halves is a big ask. Josh Dugan had a wonderful World Cup tournament in the centres but has played the majority of his career in the fullback position. Valentine Holmes is yet to fully prove himself in the number one while Aaron Gray will have to readjust to playing on the wing. If Moylan, Dugan and Holmes click early, watch out. If not fans will be questioning the Maloney/Moylan swap very quickly.
If Matt Moylan plays to his potential he will be in the discussion for the best signing of 2018. If Josh Dugan continues his World Cup form he could become the game’s elite centre. I still maintain that Valentine Holmes is the game’s most exciting young player. If he can develop his passing game he, Tedesco and Turbo will battle for the number one jersey for the Roos for the next decade.
There is no doubt that the Sharks can cause some insane damage on the competition this season if a few things go their way.
For mine there are just too many ‘ifs’ to confidently predict a top four finish. They’re capable. I’d argue this side is much better than the 2017 side that finished fifth despite never really playing overly well. I can’t remember an 80 minute display last season. Maybe the round two win against Canberra or the Penrith destruction, but even then they missed opportunities and had lapses.
I’ll hedge my bets and say they’ll comfortably make finals but will miss out on a top four finish.
If Moylan, Dugan, Holmes and co click early, I’ll live to regret this sixth place prediction, but there are just too many questions right now.