The old saying goes you can’t win a premiership in the early rounds, but you can certainly lose one.
The Sharks currently sit in eighth position on the NRL ladder with three wins from six games. Purely based on results, they certainly haven’t set the world on fire, but they’ve not fallen behind either.
In reality though, even the most expectant of Cronulla fans have to be happy considering the horror injury toll that has plagued the club in the opening month and a half.
Strangely enough though, as difficult as it has been for first year coach John Morris and his charges, the injury crisis may ultimately prove to be a blessing in disguise.
The Sharks depth has been tested in a huge way thanks to injuries to Matt Moylan, Shaun Johnson, Aaron Woods, and Paul Gallen. Add in the fact that club captain Wade Graham won’t see football until at least round ten.
You’re going to have to search high and wide to find someone to justify the Sharks being a better side without Moylan and Woods (both long-term injuries) and you won’t get an argument here.
That said, I’d argue that the Sharks are going to be a far better side come September, and certainly in 2020, as a result of the players they’ve blooded this season as a direct result of injuries to stars.
The club’s best player this season has been 21-year-old Briton Nikora. His rapid development has come about due to an injury to Wade Graham.
Almost every pre-season prediction in terms of line-up for the Sharks had Scott Sorenson and Kurt Capewell listed as the second rowers. Nikora featured on a few benches and one or two had him starting.
He’s far less likely to be starting if Graham is fully fit from game one. Yes, Capewell is playing in the left back row position but Capewell has played right side multiple times in his career and would have slotted in.
Bronson Xerri is the club’s next young star. He’s one of the quickest players in the competition and has footwork to die for. He had an off game against the Roosters with his handling but ultimately he wasn’t massively outplayed by the game’s best centre, Latrell Mitchell.
Fast forward a week and he’s burning DWZ who is hardly a slouch. He then laid on the match-winning try with a beautiful draw and pass for Josh Dugan. This came two weeks after he scorched Clint Gutherson in second gear.
Sharks fans are now licking their lips.
If Moylan had not been injured, it’s tough to see Xerri getting a start in that side. Ultimately I believe the Dugan to wing shift was coming, I expected it for round one truthfully, but all the talk was Xerri would debut on the wing after a few rounds.
The unfortunately injury to the side’s number one play maker in Moylan meant Xerri’s call up was hastened due to needing Dugan’s size and experience bringing the ball out.
Moylan’s injury also allowed the club to debut exciting fullback Will Kennedy.
Kennedy doesn’t have the size or strength of the game’s big name fullbacks but he has the ball playing skills that make him the best like for like for Moylan.
He’s too small to play on the wing and has only played due to Moylan’s injury.
As a result, if Moylan goes down later in the season, the Sharks have a confident, young fullback with NRL experience to call upon.
Braden Hamlin-Uele has looked like an absolute wrecking ball after coming into the side to replace Aaron Woods. He is fitter and faster than ever and looks ready to make his mark in 2019.
Jack Williams has played bigger minutes than expected thanks to Gallen’s injury. Williams is an absolute monster and literally hates being tackled. His minutes have increased to the point he and Gallen look set for an almost 40/40 split.
Funnily enough, the NRL’s salary cap punishment looks as though it has ensured the future of Blayke Brailey in the Shire.
Largely expected to run out for Newtown, Brailey has played off the bench all season due to James Segeyaro’s contract status.
Brailey turned down the Roosters late last week to extend his future in the Shire for a further three seasons. I’d say the contract saga would have been further drawn out should he not have tasted NRL football yet in 2019.
For those playing along at home, this kid is something special. I hang my hat on that comment.
Saturday night may see the debut of yet another young Shark in the form of Ronaldo Mulitalo. With Sosaia Feki under an injury cloud, the emerging Maroon may make his first NRL appearance on the wing. He was upgraded into the 30 man NRL squad earlier in the week and will travel.
This kid is an absolute monster and had a field day in the trial against the Sea Eagles in horrible conditions.
He’s another player who probably wouldn’t be this close to an NRL debut without the injury crisis gripping the Shire club.
That’s Xerri, Uele, Nikora, Brailey, and Williams who have all played big minutes due to injuries (or contract status in Brailey’s instance).
Ronaldo may debut on Saturday, while Kyle Flanagan has another NRL game under his belt.
These’s are all players that are set to lead the club into the future as the next generation of black, white and blue.
It may not have been fun copping a flogging to the Roosters a few weeks ago but considering what Xerri was able to do just a week later, it’s well worth it.
Could be for the best despite the pain across the opening month.