When the clocks ticked over on October 31st into the new month, two things happened. Firstly, it became November. Secondly, and more importantly, it kicked off the new era of the Cronulla Sharks.
Long gone is the fog of negativity that hovered over the club in early 2020, replaced by a level of optimism not enjoyed since the James Maloney signing.
The story has been well told, however to quickly recap the timeline: in April the club removed John Morris from the head coach position, and panic ensued.
We were warned of a player revolt. The season was done and dusted. I believe the term thrown around by hyperbolic media types was a “mass exodus” of key players.
The fan base was split almost right down the middle. Half thought it was the right decision while the other half were supposedly fighting over each other to hand in their membership.
Fast forward six months and the Sharks fanbase is united. The fan base is excited. The fan base, as of November 1st, is expecting a new era in the Shire.
Once the hysteria re removing an underdelivering, albeit super popular, coach subsided, reality hit. The Sharks signed THE most in demand young coach in the ranks.
We’ve all read the stories. Multiple clubs had made less than secret approaches to the former NSW assistant, with the view of making him their long-term coach.
Fitzgibbon chose the Sharks!
After serving his apprenticeship under one of the modern game’s best in Trent Robinson, Fitzgibbon literally had his choice of roles and he chose the Sharks.
We’ve heard it from every player who has signed on to play in the Black, White and Blue next season.
Nicho Hynes said Fitzgibbon was key to his picking Cronulla. Dale Finucane too. Toby Rudolf went out of his way to praise the incoming coach, saying it played a big part in his turning down big offers elsewhere.
We’ve seen already, in his first week in the job, the difference Fitzgibbon has made.
He brings with him an aura. A level of respect that a multiple time Grand Finalist, a NSW and Kangaroos regular and Clive Churchill Medal can command.
My Rugby League Outlaws co-host Terry joked that while you may be able to pull a fast one over a stand in coach such as Josh Hannay, there’s no way you’re facing up to Fitzgibbon after a big night or after seeing your name in the papers.
Not content with consigning the Dragons to their rightful “Little Brother” status by taking over and having a better record at their home ground at Kogarah, but the Sharks took their captain too.
Their two time, consecutive, Player of the Year award winner too.
Cam McInnes is the perfect signing for the Sharks. No he doesn’t have the profile of others moving club in this off-season, but in terms of what the club needs he is absolutely perfect.
The Sharks lacked two things in 2021; defensive resolve and leadership.
McInnes is a club captain and one of the game’s elite defenders. He’s capable of playing 80 minutes and will fill the troublesome lock position.
The Sharks have struggled to name a consistent number 13 since the retirement of a certain form player.
The beefed up McInnes will end this unwanted streak.
Another perfect signing!
The Sharks, who with the greatest of respect are more known for their awful misses in terms of signings than they’re hits, have done it again.
Finucane, another club captain, will slot straight into a starting prop position. He adds defensive resolve that Aaron Woods no longer has, whilst adding experience and leadership.
The Sharks pack in 2021 was, at time dire. Aaron Woods became more known for comical missed tackles than big hits or metres made.
Toby Rudolf threatened to run away with the missed tackle count until a late Scott Drinkwater “effort” saw him pip the Shark cult hero.
Rudolf, now playing in his preferred position of prop, will partner Finucane. He could do worse than to attach himself to the Premiership winner on and off the training paddock.
The Sharks middle has completely transformed from virtual laughing stock to scary in both attack and defence in one off-season.
The jewel in the crown. The marquee signing!
Nicho Hynes was, undisputedly, the most sought after player on the market. A host of clubs went in hard for the Heath Ledger look-a-like.
The Storm played their best footy with Hynes at the back. The only time their form dipped was when Hynes was moved back to the bench to accommodate the returning Papenhuyzen.
For those left unconvinced that Hynes is our answer in the halves, not only was Hynes a try assist machine during his run in the number one jumper, but he played his junior footy at seven.
Whether he plays in the six or seven next year will dictate who partners him. If it’s seven then you have to go Moylan, if six then it is surely Trindall.
Sir Fitz of Gibbon has already stated that he will build the side around Hynes and the way he plays the game.
As a fanbase we need to show patience with Hynes. He’s going to need time to form a new partnership in, what I believe will be five-eighth position.
Hynes is a special player and a legit future-shaping signing. It won’t be in year one but with a full season under Fitzgibbon and another recruitment drive, it’s game on.
William Kennedy has a monster 2021 season. He was, by far, our best player. He’s the first player picked heading into next season.
At one point I was calling for Joseph Manu’s signature with the thought of slotting him into the custodian role.
Fast forward the breakout season of all breakout seasons and we now have our fullback of the future. His game will suit Hynes well and should improve with a superior forward pack this year.
Ronaldo Mulitalo and Sione Katoa are try scoring freaks. Katoa is one of the best finishers in the game while Ronald breaks tackles for fun.
With rumours of Fitzgibbon considering switching Mulitalo into the centres, a pairing with Jesse Ramien is the stuff dreams are made of.
Throw in the supremely talented Braydon Trindall, who I believe will start the season at halfback, and I believe there is a side who should comfortably return to Final’s Footy in 2022.
Franklin Pele and Teig Wilton are two super bright prospects. I expect we’ll see plenty of the hulking Pele this season while Wilton is amongst the game’s most promising young forwards.
Given they’ll enjoy a full pre-season with a VASTLY superior coaching staff, the sky really is the limit for this squad.
We can’t expect too much too soon, but with the boys running out in front of a jam packed Southern Cross Group Stadium next season, there’s every reason to believe that the next era for the Sharks has begun.