Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks: 2018 season preview

Picture Credit: Ganapathy.rangappa


2017 preceded the Sharks premiership breaking drought, with the porch lights turning off after over 50 years of hurt. They were touted as a top 4 side once more and a 50/50 chance of achieving back-to-back premierships for the first time in 25 years. 

The imminent loss of Ennis to retirement and Barba due to a drugs ban would always have massive ramifications and a change to half of their winning spine proved too much.

Have added fresh faces equally capable of filling in for a few of their, higher profile player departures, and there are also talks they have adopted some Storm attacking plays. Possess a backline as good as any in the competition and the added motivation to send out Paul Gallen a winner, if he doesn't sign a few more, one-year deals may just get them over the line in 2018.

The new faces

Recruited wisely and swiftly, picking up a wealth of Origin experienced players, coupled with young players looking to make their mark.

Whilst Moylan is coming back from an indifferent year coupled with off-field incidents and time off has the potential to be a New South Wales utility with his playmaking skills and deft running style always deceiving the defensive line. 

Josh Dugan, Australian center and NSW Origin regular now, will face stern competition from one, Greg Inglis to keep his Australian jersey however the mans attacking nous is undoubted. A man for the moment, Dugan's 2017 highlight reel included a match-leveling field goal against the Roosters on Anzac Day on the buzzer, knocking the ball from Guerra's grasp in Origin I stopping a sure try. Finally, that ankle tap in the World Cup Final which all but ended England's hopes of lifting the trophy. 

If the Sharks are to go deep in the competition look for this pair of new faces to feature prominently. 

Signings: Josh Dugan (St George Illawarra Dragons), Aaron Gray (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Trent Hodkinson (Newcastle Knights), Matt Moylan (Penrith Panthers), Ava Seumanufagai (Wests Tigers), Scott Sorensen (Canberra Raiders), Braden Uele (North Queensland Cowboys)

The departed

Losing five of their 2016 premiership team for 2018 will test their resolve and experience massively, especially seeing as many were integral to that side, with the likes of Maloney and Bird moving on. 

Maloney has featured in three grand finals with three different teams now, a welath of big game experience and season grinding know how, Maloney's experience will bring major success on and off the field. An integral senior member of this Sharks outfit who will miss his organisation skills and ability to break the line.

In Jack Bird they lose a fearless and fierce competitor that played in a Grand Final with a broken elbow. This nuggety defender is just as tenacious in attack and his energy brought to the team will inevitably be visible at stages when the team is backed against the wall.

Losses: Gerard Beale (New Zealand Warriors), Jack Bird (Brisbane Broncos), Fa'amanu Brown (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Manaia Cherrington (New Zealand Warriors), Adam Clydsdale (Canberra Raiders), Jordan Drew (released), Chris Heighington (Newcastle Knights), Jeremy Latimore (St George Illawarra Dragons), James Maloney (Penrith Panthers), Daniel Mortimer (Leigh Centurions), Sam Tagataese (Brisbane Broncos), Jayden Walker (Penrith Panthers), Tony Williams (Parramatta Eels)

Predicted line-up

Valentine Holmes
Matt Prior
Sosaia Feki
Luke Lewis
Josh Dugan
Wade Graham
Ricky Leutele
Paul Gallen
Aaron Gray
Matt Moylan
James Segeyaro
Chad Townsend
Ava Seumanufagai
Andrew Fifita
Jayson Bukuya
Jayden Brailey
Kurt Capewell

Key players

Valentine Holmes

Now an Origin and International star, Holmes has been much maligned at his favoured fullback position, with many suitors preferring his wing performances scoring tries at will, including six against both Samoa and Fiji for the Kangaroos during their triumphant World Cup. 

Will hope to convert this finishing prowess in the fullback position however, on his side Holmes is the best returner of the ball from fullback in the league with 1470 return meters and fielding 88% of kicks, opposition kickers will have to look to find the grass with stats like that. 

With Holmes speed and ability to break the line, should he develop his support play expect his verve and pace to trouble even the most stoic defensive sides and see him score 15 tries plus this season. The big question mark hanging over him is whether he can develop a passing game 

Wade Graham

Now a co-captain of the Sharks, Graham took his game to a new level with the Kangaroos last year forcing himself into a bench spot for the final. 

One of the best second rowers in the game in a time where League is experiencing a gluttony of try sniffing second rowers all craving that white line fever, Graham is at the top of his game. Has everything being a former five-eighth, will pop up anywhere on the field and dink a grubber kick in, or throw a deft line ball pass for a try. 

Whacks in defense and has one of the biggest engine rooms of any forward in the game. Will do well to continue to learn from more experienced players in Gallen and Lewis, the latter's, last-ditch defense coming to the fore more so over the last few seasons, something Graham could include in his all round game. 

Matt Moylan

Having hardly played in the second half of last season Moylan, with Origin experience will be refreshed and raring to go with a new look Sharks attack. Featured heavily in the Sharks first trial on the weekend and displayed a vast array of his skills. 

At his absolute best has the potential to push for more Blues jerseys, consistency is the key for the man touted to be a long-term Panthers captain. 

His utility value was all the more reason for Flanagan to pick him up and may prove invaluable to the team should they experience a list of injuries throughout 2018, fingers crossed they do not.

Key fixtures

The opening five rounds are as tough as they come for 2016 premiers with fixtures Cowboys, Dragons, Eels, Storm and then Roosters which could well decide their top 4 fate so early on in the season. Three wins from five games is a positive result with other fixtures throughout the season being:

Round 8 - Gold Coast Titans vs Cronulla Sutherland Sharks - Cbus Super Stadium

Have proven to be a bogey side for the Sharks and the Titans have recruited wisely with a new coach, with this fixture being so soon after their stiff start to a reduced season, a win on the Gold Coast would lift their confidence on the road and they will come away with the vigour to take into the rest of the season.

Round 18 - Penrith Panthers vs Cronulla Sutherland Sharks - Penrith Stadium

Two days after the final State of Origin fixture in Brisbane and with the Sharks having five players contingent to a Blue or Queensland jumper this will be a massive game backing up from the brutal and fierce cauldron of Origin.

The rest of the squad will be refreshed after a bye the previous weekend, however up against a Panthers side that has recruited wisely and retained most of their young talent, this match could be a sign of things to come, to end the season well and make a charge deep into the finals.

Round 20 - Brisbane Broncos vs Cronulla Sutherland Sharks - Suncorp Stadium

Will be played in front of a crowd anywhere between 25 - 35,000 depending on the stakes at hand and with only five games after this one, another major moment in the pursuit of a top 4 position with both sides looking to snare a spot. 

2018 prediction

It is vital that their halves pairing form a strong combination and fare better than last year, critical to their success going forward for 2018. Townsend is coming off a quiet 2017, yet still holsters a burning ambition to one day represent New South Wales, should his form of 2016 be rediscovered look for Moylan to follow suit. 

In 2016 they had the fear factor with Fifita, Gallen, Graham, Lewis and Prior then dubbed the games most improved forward, bullying opposition teams into defeat. Whilst their pack does not possess that same fearsome quality, they are not to be taken lightly with much of their pack still the same and some looking over the horizon for post-life football at the end of this year or next. 

A top-four spot is not out of the question much like the last few years gone by however I see the Sharks claiming 5th or 6th for another home final and possibly going one week better than last year.

How do you think the Sharks will fare in 2018? Let us know in the comments and poll below. 

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