This year represented the best season in the Cronulla Sharks’ history, culminating in the club winning its maiden first grade premiership in a magnificent grand final performance against a determined Melbourne Storm and kicking off the biggest party the Shire has ever seen.
Winning the grand final. This Sharks side did what no other before them could ever manage in 49 previous campaigns. They were the dominant side in the first half and when they fell behind in the second half, their fortitude to get back in front and hold on for the win was inspirational.
The Sharks’ turn of form after their club-record 15-match winning streak ended. The Sharks simply forgot what worked. After being such a great attacking force all year, the Sharks struggled to score points and prevent them from piling up on the other side, winning just one of their last six to surrender the minor premiership to the Storm.
Ben Barba had his best season since his breakout 2012 campaign. His running and scheming game was back to its damaging best and he looks happy and comfortable again. Matt Prior has been nothing short of herculean all year. With an all-star forward pack around him, he outperformed them all more often than not. James Maloney, Wade Graham, Valentine Holmes, Jack Bird, Andrew Fifita, Michael Ennis, Chad Townsend and Luke Lewis were all magnificent.
Gerard Beale had a mixed season, lacking the consistency and impact to hold down a centre spot, eventually losing out to Ricky Leutele – though he did play his part off the bench in the grand final.
Promise in store
Valentine Holmes continues to score tries at will and is fully expected to transition into the fullback role over the next few seasons, but for now he is Australia’s newest Test winger. Jack Bird has all the makings of becoming a genuine replacement for Luke Lewis, while his versatility at centre and five-eighth garnered a NSW debut this year. Kurt Capewell looked a fine prospect in four top-grade outings and was unlucky to miss out on the grand final 17.
Round 10, 62-0 v Newcastle. The Knights were by no means a top side, while the Sharks had won their last six games. But it’s these games where a side is expected to win, that shock losses usually happen. It was a match that signalled once and for all the dour Sharks were a thing of the past.
Round 26 – 26-6 v Melbourne. The Sharks travelled to Melbourne in the last round to play the Storm in a game to decide the minor premiership. After seemingly returning to form with their convincing win over the Roosters the previous week, while Melbourne looked to be stumbling, Cronulla’s performance was well below par and they never looked like getting into the game, despite breaking the Storm line regularly.
The Sharks were not impacted by injuries at all during the season. They used only 24 players this year, while Sam Tagataese (21 games), Paul Gallen and Ricky Leutele (both 20) were the only members of the grand final side to play less than 24 games.
Andrew Fifita wrote the initials of a convicted killer on the strapping of his wrist, creating a media furore on the eve of the finals and again ahead of the decider. He hadn’t done anything illegal against the game or his club, so no action was taken against him – but most agreed it was a poor look from a serial off-field offender. It ultimately cost the controversial prop a Clive Churchill Medal and a Four Nations berth.
Shane Flanagan has managed to regularly get his side in the finals but in 2016 he not only got them to the grand final, but transformed them from a one-dimensional defence-oriented side to a well-balance attacking unit that stood at the top of the NRL tree.
— Cronulla Sharks FC (@Cronulla_Sharks) October 2, 2016
With the retirement of Michael Ennis, the Sharks have picked up unwanted young Tigers hooker Manaia Cherrington, who is a creative and nippy dummy-half. They will be looking to add some more depth to their backline and front-row.
Aaron Woods. With the Sharks lacking a little in depth up front, Woods would provide a starting prop who has all the ball skills and powerful running that would suit the Sharks style beautifully and help them transition into the post-Gallen era.
The Sharks do have one of the older rosters in the game, however they have a relatively young and still-improving backline. They will be expecting to match this season’s efforts again next year, though Ennis’ departure leaves a big hole. Given the premiers who have tried and failed, breaking the back-to-back curse would be a phenomenal achievement – particularly in the wake of the emotion attached to their 2016 triumph.
— Cronulla Sharks FC (@Cronulla_Sharks) November 3, 2016
3rd place – Won 17, Drew 1, Lost 6; For 580 (3rd), Against 404 (3rd) – Premiers.