2021 review: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Embed from Getty Images

Sharks steadily slip south

The Sharks have been doing a rather commendable job of rebuilding their elderly Premiership winning side of 2016 - one of the oldest squads to ever win a Premiership, navigating a sacked and deregistered coach and a high volume of churn to their squad through contracts ending, rotating in new blood and rookies and the ever constant injuries that befall all teams.

Yet despite this, Cronulla continued to remain a top 8 side every year since 2015, however the last 3 years has seen them slowly slide down the table, finishing 7th in 2019, 8th in 2020 and 9th in 2021.

2021 saw coach John Morris dumped, with assistant Josh Hannay filling in until new coach Craig Fitzgibbon takes over for the 2022 campaign. It was the Sharks worst season defensively since they claimed the wooden spoon in 2014.

But in a positive, it was their best attacking season since their celebrated 2016 season. In 9 of their last 10 seasons, the Sharks have managed to win at least 10 games.

The Sharks had a woeful start, recording just 2 wins from their opening 10 games to sit third last. They then won 6 of their next 8 games to climb back into the top 8, but a poor finish resulted in just 2 wins from their remaining 6 games, ultimately costing them a place in the finals (they finished equal on competition points with the 8th placed Titans, but had a marginally worse points differential).

The Sharks have made some marquee acquisitions, providing their fans with plenty to look forward to in 2022.

Turning Point

Round 9 v Penrith - The Sharks had won just 2 games at this point and were coming off their heaviest defeat of the season to date - a 40-14 loss to Melbourne - the previous week. They were decimated by a red hot Penrith side who handed the Shire outfit a 48-0 flogging.

The next week Cronulla were much better in attack and gave Souths a genuine scare, before going down 32-22. It was a marked improvement which lead to Cronulla winning their next 4 games against the Dragons, the Titans, Penrith and the Cowboys. They also scored 2 more wins over the following 4 weeks to surge into the top 8.

What Worked

The Sharks right side - It worked so well that Cronulla shifted the ball right more often than any other team in 2021. The Sharks right side contained a combination of strong ball runners like Briton Nikora and Jesse Ramien as well as speedster and prolific try-scoring winger Siona Katoa out wide. Throw in the ever improving roving playmaking of William Kennedy and it made for an irresistible temptation for the Sharks attack.

What Didn't Work

The final 20 minutes. The Sharks struggled badly in the final 20 minutes of games, conceding 33 of their 97 tries and scoring 20 of their 87 tries in that period. Given that 7 of the Sharks 14 losses were by 8 points or less, this issue in the final 20 minutes is a genuine concern which ultimately cost them a place in the finals.

Best Player

Will Kennedy - The dynamic fullback had his best season yet and his development is coming along in leaps and bounds. Compared to 2020, Kennedy in 2021 scored 11 more tries, had 3 more try assists, 9 more line breaks, averaged 44 more run metres per game, had over 400 more kick return metres, improved his tackling effectiveness, further developed his short kicking game, which resulted in 10 forced drop outs, 8 more than the previous season.


Braydon Trindall - Trindall's second season in the NRL and his first genuine full season saw him show good composure and playmaking ability, so much so that it lead to the club allowing their Premiership winning halfback Chad Townsend to sign with the Cowboys for 2022, before being released earlier so as to link up with the Warriors for the rest of the season. With a good pack and a genuine attacking 6 beside him in 2022, Trindall looks set to improve even further.

Blayke Brailey - Brailey's third season saw his performances drop a little compared to 2020, however he is still a vital and impressive cog in the Sharks attack. With more support coming to the side to help him defensively, he could very well find that attacking spark in the final 20 minutes of games that Sharks sorely missed this year.

Looking Ahead

The Sharks have just 2 players remaining from their Premiership winning side in 2016 - captain Wade Graham and prop Andrew Fifita. Halfback Chad Townsend has essentially been replaced by the impressive Storm utility back Nicho Hynes, Aaron Woods has been replaced by Storm lock Dale Finucane and Josh Dugan's departure has been covered by the acquisition of Roosters winger Matt Ikuvalu. The Sharks have also moved on Shaun Johnson, Will Chambers, Billy Magoulias and Nene Macdonald. They've also picked up handy defensive rake/lock Cameron McInnes. They have made genuine upgrades exactly where they need them.

Current projected 2022 lineup

as at time of publishing - 9 November 2021

1. Will Kennedy
2. Sione Katoa
3. Connor Tracey
4. Jesse Ramien
5. Ronaldo Mulitalo
6. Nicho Hynes
7. Braydon Trindall
8. Aiden Tolman
9. Blayke Brailey
10. Toby Rudolf
11. Briton Nikora
12. Wade Graham
13. Dale Finucane

14. Cameron McInnes
15. Braden Hamlin-Uele
16. Siosifa Talakai
17. Matt Moylan

Keep across 2022 Player Movements for the NRL season across all 16 clubs here.

2021 results

1ASt Geo IllaW32 - 18Netstrata7,6365th
2HCanberraL10 - 12Netstrata3,1456th
3AParramattaL 4 - 28Bankwest19,23612th
4HNorth QldW48 - 10Netstrata5,1198th
5ASydneyL18 - 26SCG10,7369th
6ANewcastleL22 - 26McD Jones17,03911th
7HCanterburyL12 - 18Netstrata7,42013th
8AMelbourneL14 - 40AAMI Park10,06913th
9APenrithL 0 - 48Bluebet16,11013th
10H NSouth SydneyL22 - 32Suncorp42,82114th
11HSt Geo IllaW13 - 12Netstrata8,94713th
12H NGold CoastW38 - 10Cen. Coast7,36212th
14HPenrithW19 - 18Netstrata5,2179th
15ANorth QldW26 - 24QLD C.B.13,9268th
16ABrisbaneL18 - 26Suncorp13,8408th
17HWarriorsW20 - 12NetstrataNone8th
18A NCanberraL18 - 34CBUS3,8748th
19A NCanterburyW44 - 24CBUS4,4247th
20H NManlyL22 - 40SuncorpNone8th
21A NWarriorsL16 - 18CBUSNone10th
22H NNewcastleL14 - 16Redcliffe3,95410th
23A NWests TigersW50 - 20R'hampton2,8638th
24H NBrisbaneW24 - 16Suncorp8,6188th
25H NMelbourneL16 - 28CBUS8,5809th

(NOTE - 'N' in H/A column indicates match played at a neutral venue)

2021 player records

BRAILEY, Blayke222424-2--8
KENNEDY, Will242424-14--56
RUDOLF, Toby252424-1--4
TRACEY, Connor252421314--56
WILLIAMS, Jack24248162--8
WOODS, Aaron302424-3--12
NIKORA, Briton23222024--16
TOLMAN, Aiden322111101--4
HAMLIN-UELE, Braden26198111--4
TRINDALL, Braydon2218108436-88
RAMIEN, Jesse241717-5--20
MULITALO, Ronaldo211616-10--40
MOYLAN, Matt30151232--8
TALAKAI, Siosifa2415961--4
WILTON, Teigan2115962--8
HIROTI, Mawene22141135--20
KATOA, Sione241313-9--36
GRAHAM, Wade301111-----
MAGOULIAS, Billy2411-11----
TOWNSEND, Chad301111--31163
JOHNSON, Shaun301010-118141
CHAMBERS, Will3399-1--4
DUGAN, Josh3188-3--12
FIFITA, Andrew326-6----
METCALF, Luke226242--8
HUNT, Royce262-2----
PELE, Franklin-1-1----

All stats courtesy of RugbyLeagueProject.