It’s fair to say that 2021 has been a season of tough decisions made by those in charge at the Cronulla Sharks.
The decision split the fanbase in the Shire pretty much down the middle, with half recognising the massive wraps on the incoming Fitzgibbon and the other half backing the popular and overachieving Morris.
Over a month on and it’s still the hottest topic before, during and after each and every single result. It has died down, however it won’t ever truly go away until Fitzgibbon either leads the Sharks to their second title win or is sacked for poor performance.
The debate has somewhat eased with most fans agreeing it’s best to move on as nothing can be done now, but yet again the fan base has been torn by news this past week.
Multiple reports have indicated that the Sharks have tapped three senior, highly-paid, off-contract players on the shoulder, indicating that they will not be offered contract extensions with Cronulla.
It’s even been suggested that if any of the three were to receive offers to move now that they will likely be released.
Dugan has been great for the club on and off the field. I thank him for the service
Woods filled a role and had a brilliant season and a half
SJ had a MONSTER 2020 and dragged us to the 8
Thank you gents
Generation Next is now in full effect
— #Dan2k23 (@suthodan) June 3, 2021
To be straight up, as a Sharks fan, I am completely supportive of the decision. All three players are moving toward the tail-end of their careers whilst taking up large amounts of salary cap space.
The Sharks signing of Nicho Hynes is a marquee signing we haven’t seen in the Shire for a long time.
Shaun Johnson‘s signing was massive, but it was realistically a one-team race. The Sharks had the cap space and a spot in the halves available that no other team could really match.
At only 24 year’s of age, his signing goes a long way to refreshing a squad that continues to make the eight and not much more.
The Hynes signing, combined with not fighting to keep Chad Townsend, and now this report, indicates that the Sharks have both learned from previous mistakes and are now looking very obviously towards the future.
Toby Rudolf (25), Siosifa Talakai (24), Connor Tracey (24) and William Kennedy (24) have all been re-signed rather than the Sharks heading into the market place to offer overs for ageing players as in previous years.
To their credit, I believe all three of Woods, Dugan and Johnson have copped unfair slack in the media, and throughout the fanbase.
Aaron Woods hasn’t let anyone down after moving across from the Bulldogs. By all reports he has helped mentor the younger forwards who will be charged with taking the Sharks into the next era.
Josh Dugan has been a big presence on and off the field during his time in the Shire. He was the club’s biggest star during an overseas trial trip in 2020. Dugan cops a bad wrap and suffered from extensive injuries too, and in 2019 was the club’s best performer alongside fellow centre Josh Morris.
That said, all three have seen better days despite being on big contracts this season.
Watch the Sharks releases discussed via Rugby League Outlaws
That is why I believe the Sharks have made the best decision. Fan-ship of the players aside, this is a business and the game is changing.
It’s faster than ever before and the Sharks need to free up both roster spots, and more importantly salary cap space, to attract faster and younger options for Fitzgibbon to build around.
I have the sneakiest of suspicions that Aaron Woods may be offered a one-year deal if there are no takers in November. Woods on a highly-reduced deal is a good player to have at training and can still do a job. He’d not be blocking the development of a Franklin Pele or Braden Hamlin-Uele, but would still be well worth his roster spot.
I also have a more than sneaky suspicion that Fitzgibbon is clearing the decks, and a centre spot, for a certain off-contract (at the end of 2022) Roosters centre.
Said centre can also play in the halves in 2023, with Matt Moylan likely to be offered a bridging one-year deal in the meantime.
‘Fitz’ seems to have mapped out the future. That took a detour when Adam Reynolds decided to move north rather than slightly south, but the signing of Hynes was a blessing in disguise.
For much of the fanbase it’s tough to say goodbye to three big personalities, with Shaun Johnson especially being supported, but it’s these tough decisions that the club need to make to move forward.
Only time will tell but I think – and this is tough to type as a Sharks fan as it doesn’t happen often – that the decisions makers have this spot on!