Cronulla Sharks have been the face of adversity in the NRL for a while, forever fighting against off-field dramas to succeed on the field. However, as the club looks to begin their post-Gallen era, things don’t seem to be looking up in the Shire.
The club was hot and cold on the field last year, sneaking into 8th spot courtesy of a last round win over Wests Tigers, damning them to another 9th placed finish. That would be their last win of the year, however, crashing out against a depleted Manly side the following week.
Yet to kick a ball in 2020, Cronulla is dealing with the injuries of backs Matt Moylan, Bronson Xerri and Josh Dugan, with Dugan, in particular, having the spotlight shone all pre-season with talk he may medically retire following a stack of injuries and a ‘loss of interest’.
Add to that the departure of Origin forward’s Paul Gallen and Matt Prior, their void filled by rookies Jack Williams and Toby Rudolf.
And who could forget their move to Kogarah for seasons 2020 and 2021, losing their beloved fortress of Shark Park to renovations for two years. The Sharks always had that extra gear, that will to grind out a win when they played in front of their home fans at the ground.
They won’t have that luxury in 2020. And that may be the straw that breaks the camels back and sees the club fall out of the finals for the first time since 2014.
But their biggest issue? The spine.
Cronulla has made a small tweak to their spine this season, replacing hooker Jayden Brailey with brother Blayke, the more highly regarded of the pair.
But hooker isn’t their issue. At full strength, Cronulla’s spine consists of Matt Moylan at fullback, Shaun Johnson at five-eighth and Chad Townsend at halfback, with of course Brailey the rake.
The issue with the spine is, while they’re all high calibre players, the saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ comes to mind.
The Sharks were clunky in attack last year, and it came down to a lack of communication in the spine.
The trio of Moylan, Townsend and Johnson have all had large periods in their career where they were expected to be the dominant playmaker.
Hence why the team became so clunky in attack last season, all three played in the same structure, however seeing different things in front of them so the three stars overcall each other’s calls.
They simply need to make a decision on who the dominant player should be. Pick someone who’s calls overrides the others, otherwise it’ll be a nightmare season for Blayke Brailey, who won’t know which call to listen to on field.
Moving Shaun Johnson back to halfback and Townsend to five-eighth is a strong start to the conundrum, handing the keys to Cronulla attack in the process to the former Warriors’ superstar.
They have a predominantly young squad this season, especially now they’ve agreed to release their most experienced campaigner in Josh Morris after Round 2.
Having to deal with a turnover from an experienced side to a young one, losing your fortress and re-inventing how your spine operates would see anyone fall down the ladder.
And while Cronulla always shines in the face of adversity, this could be a gap too far to bridge.