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Season 2004 may appear to have been another failure for the Cronulla Sharks, but on the bright side at least Sharks players and fans started to enjoy their footy again.
The positives of an up and down season included several impressive victories away from home. The Sharks beat the Storm 36-26 in Melbourne, played flamboyant football to beat the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium and they caught the Roosters off guard 26-12 at Aussie Stadium. They also beat the Knights in Newcastle for the second year running, 34-26. In these victories it was clear that the flat attack of the Chris Anderson was over and done with, allowing for a more enterprising, exciting style of play under new coach Stuart Raper.
Unfortunately the list of negatives was still too long. Ill discipline was a problem for the Sharks in the early and latter stages of their season. The infamous Greg Bird kneeing incident on South Sydney?s Shane Marteene did not help the club?s image. Bird was suspended for 10 weeks for the shameful cheap shot. While the Sharks improved their discipline during the middle part of the season, it let them down in their final three games, with hard man Danny Nutley unable to curb his tendency to give away silly penalties.
The Sharks let themselves down with a poor home record of just 4 wins from 12 matches. The Sharks were embarrassed by heavy home losses to the Cowboys and Eels. The Sharks failed to turn up with the right attitude and focus in these games.
The Sharks would have been disappointed with their defence, especially in the final three rounds. They conceded 36 points or more in each of the last three games, when even one win might have been enough for them to make the eight. They didn?t muscle up in defence when they needed to.
To be fair to Cronulla, the absence of Brett Kimmorley for 12 weeks was a big blow to the team?s chances. They lacked his direction in key matches leading up to the finals. They lost some matches that they might have won if his organisation and kicking game were available.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Michael Sullivan ? ?Sully? was the Shark?s super sub in 2004 wearing his Number 17 jersey and making great impact off the bench. His darting dummy half runs and ability to create all sorts of problems around the ruck for the opposition made him a crowd favourite out Cronulla way.
PREDICTION FOR 2005: The Sharks most important signing for 2005 is old boy Adam Dykes (returning from Parramatta). Stuart Raper is hoping that Dykes can strike up a quality halves combination with halfback and captain Brett Kimmorley. If these two stay on the field, the Sharks have the necessary firepower to make the top eight. The Sharks will need to work on the ?two D?s?, ?defence? and ?discipline?. A significant improvement in these two areas and the Sharks could be the surprise packet next year.
Match Records 2004
ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE 1 Wests Tigers Telstra Stadium LOSS 6-12 2 Bulldogs The Sydney Showground LOSS 20-24 3 Manly Sea Eagles Toyota Park WIN 28-20 4 South Sydney Rabbitohs Aussie Stadium LOSS 12-36 5 North Queensland Cowboys Toyota Park LOSS 10-36 6 Canberra Raiders Toyota Park WIN 38-24 7 Parramatta Eels Parramatta Stadium WIN 18-14 8 St.George-Illawarra Dragons Toyota Park LOSS 12-42 9 Melbourne Storm Olympic Park WIN 36-26 10 Sydney Roosters Toyota Park LOSS 18-38 11 Manly Sea Eagles Brookvale Oval WIN 30-28 12 South Sydney Rabbitohs Toyota Park WIN 38-18 13 Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium WIN 30-22 14 Canberra Raiders Canberra Stadium LOSS 16-26 15 Penrith Panthers Toyota Park LOSS 12-32 16 BYE
17 Newcastle Knights Energy Australia Stadium WIN 34-26 18 New Zealand Warriors Toyota Park WIN 22-14 19 Bulldogs Toyota Park LOSS 26-37 20 St.George-Illawarra Dragons Oki Jubilee Stadium LOSS 14-26 21 Brisbane Broncos Toyota Park LOSS 12-16 22 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium WIN 26-12 23 Parramatta Parramatta Stadium LOSS 22-44 24 BYE
10 WINS, 14 LOSSES. FOR: 528 AGAINST: 645 POSITION: 11TH
Cronulla Sharks ? 2005 Player Movement
Gains: Adam Dykes (Eels), Paul Mellor (Castleford), Luke Harlen (Panthers), Hutch Maiava (Bulldogs), Luke Covell (Tigers), Beau Scott (Dragons), Philip Leuluai, James Stosic, Cliff Manua (all Newtown)
Losses: Paul Franze (Panthers), Chris Beattie (Perpignan), Matt Bickerstaff (Perpignan), Bronx Goodwin (Raiders), Pat Gibson (Carcassonne), Dean Bosnich (Pia), Andrew Dallalana (released), Jason Kent (released), Matt Rieck (Wests Tigers), Michael Russo (retired).
By Michael Allen ? Freelance Journalist