2010 Position: 14th (7 wins, 17 losses)

Gains: Wade Graham (Penrith Panthers), Jeremy Smith (St George Illawarra Dragons), Colin Best (South Sydney Rabbitohs), John Williams (North Queensland Cowboys), Ryan Tongia (Gold Coast Titans), Andrew Clayton (Brisbane Broncos), Kose Lelei (Canterbury Bulldogs)

Losses: Trent Barrett (Retirement), Blake Ferguson (Canberra Raiders), Kyle O’Donnell (Newcastle Knights), Luke Covell (Retirement), Grant Millington (Canterbury Bulldogs), Josh Lewis (Toulouse Olympique, ESL second-tier competition), Reece Williams (Retirement), Adam Cuthbertson (St George Illawarra Dragons), Lancen Joudo (North Queensland Cowboys)

The 2011 season for the Cronulla Sharks is billed as a year of attempted redemption and reconstruction for the fallen franchise. Their endeavour to rebuild thus far conjures an image of a dodgy tradesmen scurrying away from a Today Tonight reporter. All the while a toothless woman cries for the camera, in shock that her promised dream home is just a tin shack and an outhouse. Whilst this image may seem like an appropriate comparison at first glance, it narrow mindedly ignores all context surrounding the Sharks’ current tale of woe.

The club is still hung-over from a season long bender which took place in 2009. Yes, 2009, is the year the Sharks collapsed. It is the excuse that persistently resonates from the lips of the fans. It is the year which dragged them to the depths that they find themselves in today. The Sharks saw out the 2009 season with more scandals than tries. Their performance on the field can only be described as abysmal, the only positive being that they narrowly avoided the wooden spoon. Their performance off the field left the club in tatters, in addition to the sex and drug scandals, the poor financial state of the club was revealed to the public. The saga shattered the club and eventually led to the departure of coach Ricky Stuart in the middle of the 2010 season.

The financial instability mentioned is an ever present and growing threat to the future of the team. The chance to rebuild hinges upon these financial dramas not burdening the on field results. Of course it is with great delight for Sharks fans, that at this present time, a 300 million dollar development project might see the club’s survival. Of course, until anything comes to fruition their financial state will remain in a state of flux.

Whilst securing the club’s future is critical, at the forefront of every fan’s mind is who will be taking the field in the coming season. Their 2011 squad sees a line-up with a lot of gaps and a lot of weaknesses. So far the Sharks’ strategy appears to be different to every other club, they’re not irrationally buying names in the hope of instant success. Instead it seems apparent that they are looking to slowly fill the aforementioned gaps to develop a well-rounded team. Of course, the question remains about whether this is intentional or simply a case of the club lacking the ability to lure any more stars.

The promising sign for the club is that they’ve assembled a fearsome forward pack. Kade Snowden and Luke Douglas have grown in stature over the past year. John Morris, despite not being the most creative hooker, is still versatile and has an excellent work ethic. Of course, the real highlight of the Sharks forward pack is the second row. The purchase of Jeremy Smith, gives the pack that extra steel. Alongside Paul Gallen, arguably the best forward in the world, and the talented Anthony Tupou, they could prove to be a devastating force throughout the 2011 season.

It has to be mentioned that the Sharks have another forward who will make a return this season but does not feature on the gains list. The person I am referring to is John Mannah. His return to professional football after a fight with cancer is inspirational and it’s that inspiration which may just rub off onto his team mates and give them the extra edge this season.

Moving on from the forward pack, one starts to see the glaring flaws in the Sharks’ squad. Whilst the starting forward pack is set; the backline, the halves and the bench continue to leave gigantic holes in the make-up of the team. At the back Nathan Gardner is an outstanding prospect for the club. The departure of Blake Ferguson sees the club lose a potential strike weapon in the centres but the return of Colin Best will see an experienced and competent first grader take his place. It’s in the halves where we bear witness to Cronulla’s boldest recruitment yet, the signing of Wade Graham. Taking a risk on a young half is always a danger but it was a step the club had to make. The problem that stands in their way is who will partner Graham in 2011.

The most important change of all from the 2010 season is the promotion of assistant coach, Shane Flanagan, into the head coaching role. The change happened mid-season but only now can he begin to mould the team in his vision. It is here where the most hope lies for the Sharks. A new coach means a fresh outlook and a reinvigorated belief that a change of fortunes is around the corner.

What went wrong in 2010: Not much needs to be said about what went wrong for the Sharks in 2010. All it takes is to look at two numbers; 354 and 609. The first is the number of points scored, the lowest in the league. The second is the number of points conceded, second highest in the league. This shows that the players failed to stand up in attack and defence. With the departure of Ricky Stuart halfway through the season, there was an opportunity to make a strong impression for the new coach but the players did not take hold of the chance.

What went right in 2010: As you would expect, there weren’t many positives for Cronulla in 2010. There are 3 major breakthroughs that do stand out though: Nathan Gardner, Luke Douglas and Kade Snowden. The spark of Gardner and the further development of Douglas and Snowden will be a huge boost for the future of the club if nothing else.

Final say for 2011: Unless a miracle occurs, the 2011 season is not one of glory for the Cronulla Sharks. However, unlike last year, it will be a season where they can begin to rebuild proper and can lay to rest the old excuse of 2009. Whilst it will be remembered for some time, it will no longer be relevant to the current team. Additionally, throughout all the drama of the past two seasons, the management at the Sharks have shown an aversion to knee-jerk reactions and have indicated that they’re not willing to take a risk for instant success. Sharks fans can take solace in that fact, knowing that their recruitment policies are built on rational decisions and willingness to slowly piece together a well-rounded side. Of course, all this talk of redemption hinges on a financial breakthrough for the club, and if that doesn’t come to pass, there is always the option of Perth.

More 2011 Season Previews