NRL Rd 7 - Sea Eagles v Sharks
GOSFORD, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 28: Sione Katoa of the Sharks celebrates scoring a try during the round seven NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Cronulla Sharks at Central Coast Stadium on June 28, 2020 in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Predicted Finish: 7th

Actual Finish: 8th

There were plenty of questions for the Sharks heading into 2020, but the feeling was that they were going to be good enough to play finals, without being much better than that. Pretty predictable in terms of finishing position, but I don’t think many foresaw the season going the way it did in the Shire.

Highlights

Youngsters develop: A string of injuries and off-field movements meant that the Sharks were forced to blood a series of younger players. The nucleus of the Newtown Jets 2019 team dominated the Sharks’ best players in 2020.

Ronaldo and Katoa were electric on the wing, both scoring tries-galore in brilliant fashion. Royce Hunt was a monster all year, Talakai was arguably the bargain buy of the season after signing from the Jets.

Toby Rudolf was absolutely massive and one of the Sharks best every single week. Blayke Brailey was magical at times, Will Kennedy solid at fullback and Jackson Ferris had a debut for the ages.

New found attacking brilliance: The Sharks have not been known as a free-flowing, attacking side over the years. This year however, that complete changed. Only four teams scored more points in the 2020 regular season than those wearing black, white and blue.

Johnson was a wizard all season, while Sione Katoa was leading the try-scoring race for many weeks. The Sharks scored tries from absolutely everywhere on the park this season and dazzled fans while doing so. Morris had the attack purring.

Beat the teams they should: One thing the Sharks cannot be accused of being is consistent. They can come out and beat Melbourne then cop 40 to the Tigers, but this year the Sharks, somewhat, found a level of consistency.

They routinely beat the sides they were expected to beat. Only the Dragons and Tigers upset the Sharks, although a depleted Raiders team in Round 20 can be argued also. Other than that though, they beat the likes of the Titans and Warriors as expected. That doesn’t usually happen for this club.

Lowlights

Senior players underdeliver: Whereas the Sharks youngsters played well above themselves, the Sharks senior players were the exact opposite.

Shaun Johnson was magical all season, while Josh Dugan was better than good, however the likes of Moylan, Woods, Fifita and Townsend were hugely disappointing.

I’d say Wade Graham was average, at best, across the 21 rounds. You can’t expect rookies to drag you deep into the finals when internationals and players on more than half-a-million dollars are either in the stands or giving away penalties and possession.

Couldn’t beat a Top 8 side: The Sharks finished 8th despite not beating a side who finished in the top eight all season. The only team they beat all season who was in the eight at the time was a Manly side that resembled the Blacktown Workers such was the injury list, and Manly were bounced from the eight on the back of that result. That’s a frightening stat. Not good.

Defensively awful: The Sharks build seasons, and won a title, on the back of stingy, aggressive defence. That was nowhere to be seen in 2020.

The Sharks conceded 480 points, over 100 more than any top eight side. In fact, only five teams conceded more than Cronulla this season. Eight times they conceded more than 30 points in a game.

For a side hoping to do damage in the finals, that’s absolutely deplorable. They conceded 104 points in their last three games. I know what they’ll be working on during the off-season.

Star Player: Shaun Johnson

The Kiwi maestro had arguably the season of his career, which considering what he has achieved during his tenure is really saying something special.

Johnson had an NRL best 23 try assists in just 16 games, as well as 12 line break assists, 18 forced drop outs and 72 metres per game. Simply put, he single handily saw the Sharks home in games they otherwise would have been out of.

Partnered with either rookies or the hugely out-of-form Chad Townsend, Johnson was forced to play a lone hand more often than he should have. To say he stood up when the Sharks needed him is an understatement.

The Sharks season ended the literal second he hit the turf at the SCG and was ruled out. So much off their 2021 success depends on Johnson’s ability to return to action ASAP.

Season Grading: C

The Sharks could produce anything from dazzling attacking displays that made them look like top four threats, or frustrating games where they copped 50… all within a fortnight.

You never knew what Sharks team would turn up, although they did eventually settle into a very predictable routine of beating the teams below them, yet losing horribly to the teams above them.

Shaun Johnson could have won the Dally M based on his individual performances but he was the only senior player to really justify his wage in 2020. As mentioned above, the rest of the Sharks established stars were well below par.

Bronson Xerri’s suspension just days after Josh Morris left the club for the Roosters threw the Sharks for a loop and cost them in a big way.

For a side playing massively under the salary cap, plus the Xerri situation, 8th should have been a pipedream. To think that they made finals is pretty astonishing considering.

That said, they were never more than pure fodder come finals time, and for a side with this much talent on the books, that’s probably not good enough.

They were 5-5 at home, 5-5 away and both scored and conceded exactly 480 points in the regular season. Says it all.