A new look Sharks outfit will take the park under a new coach in 2019.
Will the off-field attention drive them on, or sink them under the pressure?
Kurt Dillon (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Trent Hodkinson (Manly Sea Eagles), Edrick Lee (Newcastle Knights), Ricky Leutele (Toronto Wolfpack), Luke Lewis (retired), Joseph Paulo (St Helens RLFC), Jesse Ramien (Newcastle Knights), James Roumanos (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
The Sharks fell one game short of the decider, going down in big fashion against a red hot Storm outfit. To say that they over achieved is no overstatement.
Valentine Holmes became an absolute megastar of the game with 20 tries across the season. Jesse Ramien emerged as a future rep possibility. Luke Lewis was sent out on a high, scoring in two straight games before the Sharks were eliminated.
Best Recruit: Shaun Johnson
The Johnson signing is MASSIVE for the club. Johnson’s unveiling completely turned the fortunes of the club around during a horror time of negativity.
Not only is he a megastar on the field but he’s one of the game’s most marketable off-field. His name will be the major selling point or the club as it searches for sponsors.
On his day Johnson is the game’s most damaging number seven. Unfortunately, he has not found the consistency a player of his profile should show. A change of scenery and coaching style could provide what he needs.
Playing behind one of the game’s best forward packs and with names like Dugan, Morris and Moylan providing weaponry outside him, look for Johnson to have a monster season.
Future Star/One To Watch: Bronson Xerri
The hype on the 18-year-old junior rep centre is real. Shane Flanagan was not shy in stating that if the rules had allowed that he would have debuted in 2018.
One of the Sharks Premiership winning Jersey Flegg’s stars, Xerri may debut as soon as round one on the wing. His debut game for the Sharks feeder club, the Jets, saw him score a hattrick in the first half.
An absolute monster for his age, Xerri has the speed and footwork to make him a red hot chance of an early round debut. He’ll likely start his NRL first grade career on the wing with a shift to the centres the eventual shift.
Star Player: Matt Moylan
The Sharks main attacking weapon will likely shift to fullback allowing Johnson and Townsend/Flanagan to form the halves combination.
Given his performances in the six toward the end of the season, a shift to fullback may not be his preferred move, but it will make the Sharks a more dangerous side.
The 2016 Sharks side relied heavily on Ben Barba’s ball playing abilities to create try-scoring opportunities. For all his skills, Valentine Holmes lacked the passing game of Barba. Moylan possesses arguably a superior passing game to both.
He won’t have to kick either, while his defensive workload will be way down. This should allow Moylan to work off the back of Johnson and Townsend as a third half. This, in theory, should provide an extra route to the try line for the shire club.
Recruitment Grade: B
The Sharks have lost premiership winners in Luke Lewis, Ricky Leutele and of course the big one in Valentine Holmes. In recruiting Shaun Johnson they really softened the blow of the loss of Holmes, while I would argue that they’ve improved their title chances.
Losing Ramien and Lee will hurt, while the Segeyaro non re-signing will raise some eyebrows. That said, given the talent coming through the junior ranks, the Sharks should be fine.
Replacing Luke Lewis will be near impossible. Otherwise, the Sharks have done very well with recruitment.
The Sharks have a roster capable of challenging for the title. That is hard to argue against. Given the off-field troubles and the fact they’ll start the season with a rookie coach, and sans their best attacking back rower in Wade Graham, the Sharks could produce anything.
If Johnson fires and Moylan slots back into fullback with style, the Sharks could start the season on fire and play from in front. Or Johnson may struggle to change his style of play while Moylan struggles to go back into the one.
A very capable Sharks forward pack could absolutely boss opponents, or their new look back row of Capewell and Sorenson could get overpowered.
There are just too many questions to put the Sharks in the top four, however on paper, with the additions of Johnson and Morris, look set for a comfortable top-eight finish.
It all comes down to the performances of Johnson and Moylan, and the ability of Capewell and Sorenson to become full time starting second rowers.
The talent is there but there are plenty of distractions. I’m confident in saying the Sharks will play finals footy, but it will be in a sudden-death environment.