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Home Ground: Southern Cross Stadium, Cronulla
Coach: Shane Flanagan
2016 finish: Premiers
2016 top try scorer: Valentine Holmes, 19
2016 Players of the Year: Andrew Fifita & Matt Prior
Gains: Manaia Cherrington (Tigers), Jeremy Latimore (Panthers), Daniel Mortimer (Titans), Tony Williams (Bulldogs)
Losses: Michael Ennis (retired), Matt McIlwrick (Tigers)
Cronulla Sharks didn’t have the best start to their season, going down 22-6 to Wigan as the Warriors became the first side to win the World Club Challenge four times. It was a bit of a shock to the Antipodeans as seven of the most recent previous battles to determine the world champions had been won by teams from Australia.
But coach Shane Flanagan was unfazed seeing it only as the first step to change recent history. He is determined his lads will prove wrong the modern theory that you can’t win consecutive NRL Premierships. The last to do so in a unified Premiership were the Brisbane Broncos in 1992 and 1993.
Wade Graham, the Sharks skipper-in-waiting, understands the enormity of the task: “The NRL is such a hard competition. That’s why we have pushed ourselves so hard in pre-season training to improve – because we will need to be so much better.”
Current skipper Paul Gallen also knows what is required. He may be 35 years old with 279 senior club appearances to his credit, but he is training as if he was a rookie. The fact that he has retired from Test and Origin rugby to concentrate on his role at Cronulla is an indication of his enthusiasm to set new records.
A big loss will be hooker Michael Ennis. “The Menace’ played some of the best rugby of his long career in his two seasons with Cronulla and is credited with being one of the major reasons why the Sharks were finally able to win their first Premiership. Flanagan has picked up veteran utility Daniel Mortimer from the Titans and ex-Junior Kiwi Manaia Cherrington from Wests. Then there is the Dally M Under-20s Player of the Year Jayden Brailey, who was given a run against Wigan. But Flanagan is expected to blood him gradually in the NSW Cup.
Andrew Fifita will be keen to make up for missing the Four Nations Tournament after being overlooked for off-the-pitch reasons. Old hand Luke Lewis will continue to add his enormous experience to the pack.
The world’s best winger Valentine Holmes will miss the start of the season through injury, but it hasn’t yet been decided whether he will switch to fullback to replace the rugby union-bound Ben Barba.