Three big games in 13 days, with two interstate trips and matches against finals contenders.

It was a daunting task for the Cronulla Sharks, but, with the exception of one spellbinding half of football from Siosifa Talakai against a recently-returned-from-coronavirus and now-dropped Morgan Harper, it was a task the club failed. Dismally.

The club came into 2022 with hopes and expectations far beyond what they have been for a number of years.

That followed 12 months of radical change and transformation for the men from the Shire -out with the old, and in with the … Not exactly new, but new for them on-field.

Hard-working forwards Cameron McInnes and Dale Finucane joined the club in a desperate attempt to stop the second-half slides in the middle third.

Cronulla were a top-four side in 2021, provided every game finished at halftime. If every game started at halftime, well they were closer to the bottom four - indicating serious strength and conditioning issues at the club.

They were joined by Nicho Hynes who was handed the keys to the vehicle with a spot in the halves, while there has been a clear shift in attitude and focus at the club.

That has been a result of the 'completely new', with Craig Fitzgibbon undertaking his first season as an NRL head coach following an apprenticeship under Trent Robinson in one of the NRL’s best systems at the Sydney Roosters.

That was always going to serve the club well - and it had to - given the sacking of John Morris so early in 2021 essentially wrote off last season, leaving the club under the control of interim coach Josh Hannay for most of the season.

And for the first handful of weeks it did look like it was working to the fullest extent.

With the exception of a dismal Round 1 showing against the Canberra Raiders where the old habits seemed to have returned to the squad, the season started about as well as could have been expected for the Sharks.

Their first game in the Shire for a couple of years resulted in an emotional win over Parramatta, they smacked the Dragons around in cyclone-like conditions in Wollongong, romped past the Knights and Tigers and, before anyone could think about it, they were four from five.

The signing of Hynes looked a masterstroke and the club was firing on all cylinders with Cameron McInnes only just making his return from injury and playing limited minutes as he worked back to first-grade.

NRL Rd 2 - Sharks v Eels

But then came Round 6 and a trip to Melbourne - the start of a difficult spell, but one that any club in premiership contention have to be coming out the other side of as winners in at least two, if not all three, games.

It is still early in the season, and there is plenty of water to pass under the bridge, but the signs following the last three weeks point to the Sharks being good but not great.

Not a premiership force ... Yet, anyway.

The clash against the Storm was gutsy, particularly given Finucane went down with concussion in the opening 10 minutes during the first clash against his old side - and back at his old venue.

But Fitzgibbon’s inexperience shone through - and that will be a recurring theme here.

Leaving McInnes on the edge, where he got burned on a number of occasions, cost the Sharks, with the black, white and blue eventually letting in 34 points to fall to a team they have been able to take the fight up to over the years when many others have been little more than cannon fodder in the headlights of Melbourne.

As an isolated incident, losing to Melbourne by 16 points wouldn’t be the end of the world - particularly this early in the season.

But it’s what has followed that suggests the Sharks aren’t in the premiership picture at this stage.

Their win over Manly on an albeit short turnaround should have raised more alarm bells as Fitzgibbon seemed to fail in rotating his forwards effectively during the second half.

Instead, a Siosifa Talakai performance for the ages papered over the cracks - by halftime the game was over and the Sharks duly clocked off in the second half, almost being mowed down by the Sea Eagles in the battle of the beaches.

NRL Rd 7 - Sharks v Sea Eagles

But it was a one-man performance - by the end of that first half, it had become almost a laughable game of 'pass the ball to Talakai and watch him run over Morgan Harper.'

Fans were calling for Talakai to play Origin, the single half of football was that good, but the cracks were showing, even if on a five-day turnaround.

They were cracks which rose to the surface the following week when the Brisbane Broncos - now resurgent having beaten the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the Round 9 opener on Thursday evening - managed to run over the Sharks, this time on a seven-day turnaround at Suncorp Stadium.

It was a game that means the Sharks have now lost three straight, and when you consider who their victories were against - all teams struggling - it raises plenty of questions about where they truly are.

The game against the Broncos, in a lot of ways, was a disaster. Nicho Hynes was abysmal, their forwards struggled and the rotation again missed the mark horrendously from Fitzgibbon.

It’s not a knock on Fitzgibbon - he is still learning and gaining experience in the job. Hynes as well.

NRL Players Return to Clubs Ahead of Resumption of Training

But their errors, their missed tackles - it looked as if the Sharks of old had returned, and, with Talakai subdued in a battle which had been talked up as one for an Origin spot against Kotoni Staggs, the Sharks’ deficiencies shone through.

That isn’t to say the Sharks won’t have a strong season - they are still going to make the top eight and could create a scare in the finals.

With 16 rounds to play, anything could happen.

But to match it with the Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm, who right now are so far ahead of the competition it’s not funny, they are going to have to go up multiple gears, and do it with incredible consistency.

It has been proven to be borderline impossible to win a premiership from outside the top four, so that will be their first battle.

But even if that happens, a premiership this season is almost certainly off the cards.

They are close, and will be closer next year, but experience and potentially more squad redoing will be needed.


  1. I think you’re too kind to Mr Fitzgibbon. After all the years he spent with Trent Robinson, we expected better bench selections and rotation.

    This week, the bench has only one out-and-out prop (Royce Hunt) and two edge back-rowers (Wade Graham and Jack Williams) plus Cam McInnes as the “cover everything else” player. There needs to be one edge back-rower only, and another big middle forward – old Andrew Fifita or young Franklin Pene.

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