The Cronulla Sharks, complete with a new coach, new signings and a hopeful new attitude, will be ready to bounce back up in the table in 2022 if the season goes to plan.
The men from the Shire were one of the more disappointing teams last year, missing the finals on the back of a number of second-half fade-outs. In fact, if every game had of finished at halftime, the Sharks would have finished in fourth place on the competition table.
Without a shadow of a doubt, their biggest issue in those fade-outs was their middle defence, but the signatures of Cameron McInnes and Dale Finucane will go a substantial way to fixing that.
Add to the ever-improving William Kennedy and the signing of Nicho Hynes, and the black, white and blue look an exciting prospect for the new season.
Ins: Jayden Berrell (2022), Kade Dykes (2022), Dale Finucane (Melbourne Storm, 2025), Nicho Hynes (Melbourne Storm, 2024), Matt Ikuvalu (Sydney Roosters, 2023), Jack Martin (2022), Cameron McInnes (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2025), Lachlan Miller (2023), Ryan Rivett (2022)
Outs: Will Chambers (rugby union), Josh Dugan (Retired), Shaun Johnson (New Zealand Warriors), Nene Macdonald (Leigh Centurions), Billy Magoulias (Warrington Wolves), Chad Townsend (North Queensland Cowboys), Aaron Woods (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Star player: William Kennedy
Kennedy was the star of the show for the Sharks in 2021, and will look to take his game to yet another level in 2022.
Given Kennedy finished the year with 14 tries and 14 try assists, leading the club in both stats, it’s remarkable to think the number one jersey was still somewhat up in the air at the start of the season. He is a talent at both ends of the park and will keep Nicho Hynes away from a role he dominated with the Storm last year. A superb talent, and the key to Cronulla’s attack this year.
Rising star: Teig Wilton
Relatively unknown heading into last year, Wilton would go on to manage 16 games including a number of stars, scoring two tries, making seven offloads and developing a reputation as a strong edge defender.
He will have to fight for his spot this year given the return of Wade Graham and utility value Siosifa Talakai possesses, but watch for him to break into the 17 at some point and make a position his own once again.
Most under pressure: Blayke Brailey
Brailey has a mortgage on the Cronulla number nine position and has been re-signed, however, if his form falls off, then the Sharks have plenty of back up options this year, with Cameron McInnes and Jayden Berrell - a star of the Queensland Cup for years - in the squad.
But not only does Brailey have pressure for his spot, but he is the link in this spine to ensure the team moves smoothly and that the forwards get good service.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 1, vs Raiders, at GIO Stadium (Friday, Mar 11, 6:00pm)
Match 2: Round 3, vs Dragons, at WIN Stadium (Fri, Mar 24, 8:05pm)
Match 3: Round 6, vs Storm, at AAMI Park (Sat, Apr 16, 7:35pm)
Match 4: Round 19, vs Panthers, at BlueBet Stadium (Sat, Jul 23, 5:30pm)
Match 5: Round 23, vs Sea Eagles, at 4 Pines Park (Sat, Aug 20, 5:30pm)
The Sharks only had one major problem last year, which was their middle third defence in the second halves. They had other minor issues, but with time, they will fix themselves. Defence needed new names in the squad, and new names they have.
McInnes and Finucane are excellent additions, and under new coach Craig Fitzgibbon, this is a team that will, at the very least, make the top eight, but realistically should be pushing for a spot in the top four come the end of the season, even if they don’t end up buying themselves a second chance in the finals.