13/04/2024

Cronulla Sharks looking to progress further into the post-season. (Image: Cronulla Sharks/X)

After back-to-back finals exits, Cronulla will be looking to prove themselves as legitimate threats to the top eight.

The Cronulla Sharks started their last two seasons strong, showing flashes of brilliance at times, but by the later end of the seasons, the team failed to make a dent when up against top-ranked clubs.

Last Season

Last season was another rollercoaster for Sharks fans. Expectations for the team were higher last year after being knocked out of the finals in 2022 – only for history to repeat itself in 2023.

The club has now suffered two consecutive finals exits, and questions have been raised on whether the team has all the tools to contend for the premiership.

Cronulla said goodbye to long-time co-captain Wade Graham, leaving the new co-captains Dale Finucane and Cameron McInnes to step up and lead the team for 2024.

However, all eyes were on star playmaker Nicho Hynes to create some magic on the field. Despite delivering consistently throughout the year, he could not execute his success against the top-tier teams.

The Sharks experienced many highs and lows throughout the season, with tackle king Cameron McInnes breaking the NRL record with 81 tackles against the Panthers in round 22.

Lightning-fast winger Ronaldo Mulitalo scored 21 tries in 23 games, becoming just the second Shark to surpass 20 four-pointers in a season.

Fan-favourite fullback Will Kennedy recorded the second-most kick-return metres (1267m/66.7m per game).

Squad Changes

Ins:

Billy Burns (St George Dragons), Michael Gabrael (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs)

Outs:

Wade Graham (retired), Connor Tracey (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Matt Moylan (Leigh Leopards, Super League), Matt Ikuvalu (Catalans Dragons, Super League)

More NRL News

Track Watch

Will Kennedy has been a force to reckon with ever since he joined the club, and the Sharks managed to successfully lock down the fullback until at least the end of the 2025 season. Kennedy suffered a grade two hamstring strain in a crucial moment of last year’s campaign, but he appears in good health ahead of the upcoming 2024 season.

Braydon Trindall will take on the No.6 jersey following Matt Moylan’s departure. Trindall played seven of Cronulla’s last eight matches alongside Nicho Hynes and is a talented player, but he will need to work well with Hynes to find their rhythm together.

Kade Dykes took to the field for the first time in over a year during Round One of the Pre-season Challenge against the Newcastle Knights on February 17. The promising young recruit was sidelined for the entire 2023 season after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament at a pre-season training camp in Wollongong on January 31. Despite losing to the Knights 44-18, Dykes played almost 60 minutes and showed a promising return to form – expect big things from his return.

What to Expect

A hunger and drive from the club as the Sharks set their sights on any top eight contenders.

Expect captains Dale Finucane and Cameron McInnes to live up to the pressure as they now lead without Wade Graham by his side. Several key players extended their contracts last year, with Hynes, Mulitalo, Kennedy, and Hamlin-Uele predicted to showcase what the team is capable of.

Multiple young guns were also re-signed, strengthening the potential of the squad, with Jesse Colquhoun, Kade Dykes, Jayden Berrell, and Mawene Hiroti reinforcing the team’s depth.

The Sharks have spent the past two years delivering solid starts to their seasons. Expect the club to show their up-and-coming talent potential.

When the time comes to stand across from premiership-level teams, there is still uncertainty about how they will fare.

It’s a big year for:

Nicho Hynes

The 2022 Dally M Medalist is locked into the Sharks until at least the end of the 2029 season.

With a massive contract extension, all eyes will be on the five-eighth to deliver for the Sutherland Shire. Nicho Hynes performed exceptionally well throughout the 2023 season, making his first State of Origin appearance in Game One for the NSW Blues and debuting for the Australian Kangaroos.

However, being the face of Cronulla, Hynes will bear the brunt of any inconsistencies the team may face. The Sharks still need an X-factor player, and Hynes needs someone to help take the pressure off him. With Moylan gone, it will be up to Trindall to complement Hynes in the halves.

Biggest unanswered question:

Can the Sharks be a legitimate threat in the top eight?

This is the burning question that has plagued Cronulla.

On paper, the Sharks have almost every aspect covered to be a premiership-calibre team. Mulitalo and Katoa have the speed and try-scoring abilities to rack up points. 

McInnes, Hamlin-Uele, and Hazelton boast rock-solid defence and highlight reel hits, while Hynes and Kennedy have the necessary skills to expand their playmaking.

The Sharks dominated against bottom-ranked teams last year but will need that same fire to take on the Penrith Panthers or the Brisbane Broncos. 

It wasn’t long ago when Cronulla was seen as one of the best defensive teams. They need to improve their defence whilst being able to capitalise on opportunities when attacking.

Coach pressure index

Low

Coach Craig Fitzgibbon joined the Sharks in 2022 and just last year re-signed until the end of 2027.

In his first two years, he took Cronulla into the top eight, with both trips ending in early exits from the finals.

The Sharks coach also coached the Sharks to second place in 2022 in his first year on the job.

2023 saw a similar year for Fitzgibbon, where he once again coached his team to place sixth.

Fitzgibbon is starting his third year at the club and has done wonders for the team in his short tenure, but he will be looking to prove that he can guide his team even to greater heights.

Predicted round one lineup

  1. Will Kennedy
  2. Sione Katoa
  3. Jesse Ramien
  4. Siosifa Talakai
  5. Ronaldo Mulitalo
  6. Braydon Trindall
  7. Nicho Hynes
  8. Toby Rudolf
  9. Blayke Brailey
  10. Braden Hamlin-Uele
  11. Briton Nikora
  12. Teig Wilton
  13. Dale Finucane
  14. Cameron McInnes
  15. Oregon Kaufusi
  16. Royce Hunt
  17. Thomas Hazleton

Ladder prediction

4th to 7th

2024 could very well be the year of the Sharks.

After two years of failed finals campaigns, they have more than enough experience playing amongst each other.

They’ve had time to adapt under Coach Fitzgibbon and have the talent to take on anyone.

The club has every ingredient needed to compete for the premiership, from the players to the coaching staff, and the quality of Cronulla has only risen over the past few years – expect them to go even higher in 2024.

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