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Cronulla Sharks - 2012 Preview
The Sharks have been quite consistent over the last three seasons, but it's the sort of consistency that they will be looking to put an end to in an epic manner in 2012.
In 2009 they won 5 games, finishing 15th, 2010 and 2011 they won 7 games, finishing 14th and 13th respectively. But 2012 they have bought very wisely and astutely to not only improve the team's long-criticised attack, but to actively sign top line players in pivotal positions.
The fact the club lost reliable props Kade Snowden and Luke Douglas and was able to pick up Wests Tigers front row duo Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita was the start of a stellar buying spree. Several solid depth signings and then the highly publicised addition of Todd Carney has everyone in the Shire swearing at the calendar and demanding 2012 started on March 1.
It's this sort of excitement and enthusiasm that fans in the Shire haven't felt for many years. The club has made great signings, enjoyed a trouble free off-season and has excited fans. They'll be hoping those fans flood through the gates all year at home to help build a new positive and successful era for the Sharks.
Flanagan has proven to be a very astute coach and could be a bolter for coach of the year at the Dally M awards at the end of the season.
Why they'll win it
The Sharks still have an amazingly dominant forward pack and the addition of Bryce Gibbs sures up their defence even more. Gibbs is arguably one of the world's best defensive props and he will help ensure that the dreaded second phase plays that have constantly haunted Sharks fans in previous seasons will be much fewer in number.
Then there's the Carney factor. If he stays focussed on footy and off the grog, he is one of the most devastating attacking halves in the game today. With the likes of the straight running Tagatese and the speedy Gardner running off him, the Sharks attack could also become one of the toughest to contain.
Why they won't win it
The three-quarter line. The Sharks have quality and depth all over the park, except on the wings and in the centres. This could pose to be a major issue as Carney's speed and agility could see him move too quickly for his outside backs, leaving him isolated and killing any attacking opportunities. Even with the dearth of halves now at the club, they still have uncertainty over who will play at hooker and if Gardner gets injured, their backs depth will be heavily tested.
For several years now, the Sharks have played grinding games with little success. Carney will not flourish under such a defensive minded strategy, so the Sharks style is going to have to change dramatically. These changes will take some time to bear fruit and this could result in the Sharks having a poor start and a red hot finish which may see them nudge the 8.
Player to watch
Todd Carney. He will make or break the club in 2012. The Sharks have taken a massive gamble on Carney. On the field he'll always be quality, but he needs to keep out of trouble off the field. This is the only area that the Sharks are concerned about. If Carney stays trouble free, the Sharks are going to upset a lot of teams and will be quite a force in 2013.
Rookie to watch
Tyrone Peachey. Nephew of club legend David Peachey, Tyrone is a versatile player who can play in the Back Row, Lock, Five-Eighth and even Centre. He may very well force his way onto the bench in 2012. He'll have strong competition though in Tyson Frizell who played 2 NRL games for the Sharks in 2011 before being selected for Wales in the Four Nations at years end.
Gains: Todd Carney (Roosters), Isaac De Gois (Newcastle), Sosaia Feki (Warriors), Andrew Fifita (Tigers), Bryce Gibbs (Tigers), Jon Green (Dragons), Jeff Robson (Parramatta), Ben Ross (Souths), Mark Tafua (Newcastle).
Losses: Paul Aiton (Wakefield), Dean Collis (Wakefield), Luke Douglas (Gold Coast), Luke Harlen (North Queensland), John Mannah (Parramatta), Kade Snowden (Newcastle), Taulima Tautai (Parramatta), Ryan Tongia (Wakefield).
1. Nathan Gardner 2. John Williams 3. Colin Best 4. Ben Pomeroy 5. Nathan Stapleton 6. Wade Graham 7. Todd Carney 8. Bryce Gibbs 9. Isaac De Gois 10. Ben Ross 11. Anthony Tupou 12. Jeremy Smith 13. Paul Gallen
Interchange: 14. Andrew Fifita 15. Josh Cordoba 16. Jason Bukuya 17. John Morris