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Of all the clubs in the National Rugby League, the Cronulla Sharks have the greatest history of disappointment and abject failure. For thirty nine years they have worked towards their maiden premiership, only to fall short each and every season with remarkable consistency.
It?s easy to make excuses for such a record. Lack of player depth, one eyed referees, injuries to key players, a lack of funds; all have been suggested as possible reasons for the Sharks? inexcusable premiership record. However, none can justify why Cronulla remains the least successful club in first grade rugby league history.
Former Sharks coach Chris Anderson recognised the problems. A culture of mediocrity is infused within the club, gripping all levels from the supporter base through to management. Fans will clap and cheer for the players even after the most miserable losses, while the club president declares with great excitement that victory is just around the corner as the team staggers from one tragic flogging to the next. It?s one thing to be positive; but blind, unwavering optimism does nothing but encourage the mediocrity that the club has accepted for forty years.
Anderson, despite all of his flaws, knew that the Sharks needed a harder edge. His decisions were often intentionally abrasive, which resulted in a great deal of discomfort amongst management, players and fans who weren?t accustomed to being pushed beyond their comfort zones. This isn?t to suggest that Anderson should have been held onto by the club; some of his coaching decisions were incomprehensible, to say the least. However, he knew that there was a deeply set problem at the Sharks, a problem which nobody else within the organisation has thus far been willing to acknowledge.
A great deal of the problem lies with the management. Only recently, following the tragic death of general manager Steve Rogers, the board elected not to accept applications for the vacant position. Instead, they voted to install Greg Pierce ? son of club president Barry Pierce ? into the role. Irrespective of whether Pierce was the right man for the job or not, the club should have advertised the position and then selected a new general manager on the basis of merit. Instead the board took the easy option, the option which kept all of the relevant parties happy, at the possible expense of the club itself. It is decisions like these that exemplify the deeply set culture of mediocrity infused within the Sharks board.
It comes as little surprise that such an attitude, displayed by those with the job of running the club, seeps down through all levels of staff and playing ranks. The players themselves certainly aren?t immune. There exists no greater example of this than last season when the Sharks, emerging at the top of the table from a winning streak four games long, declared themselves real contenders for the premiership. A week later, they submitted meekly to the eventual wooden spooners and then stumbled from loss to loss, eventually placing seventh. For a fan buoyed by early season results, this drastic reversal of form in the latter rounds of the competition was a bitter pill to swallow.
The club needs change. It needs fans that don?t automatically cheer and clap, irrespective of results. It needs a board that is willing to take a step back and allow the coach to have absolute free reign over the team. It needs a coach who is not afraid of making hard, occasionally unpopular decisions in order to better the team as whole. It needs players who aren?t concerned about the size of their already inflated pay packets, or their own personal representative selection, or having a big night out on the town. It needs players who are entirely committed to delivering a long awaited maiden premiership to the Sutherland Shire.
Unfortunately, change appears unlikely. After decades of mediocrity, everyone involved has accepted their place as mid table veterans. None are willing to push past their comfort zone in order to achieve greatness.
Without drastic change, the Cronulla Sharks will never win a premiership.