After a promising 2022 regular season, the Sharks ended their premiership tilt with a first-up extra time loss to the Cowboys and a trouncing at the hands of the Rabbitohs.
However, with a side that will closely resemble the one which finished second in 2022, there’s a lot to be hopeful for with Craig Fitzgibbon’s men.
The Sporting News previews the Sharks’ season below – including their best 17, the key to their success and predicted finish for 2023.
SHARKS TOP 30 SQUAD | SHARKS OFF-CONTRACT LIST | SHARKS ROUND 1 PREDICTED TEAM
CRONULLA SHARKS BEST 17
Oregon Kaufusi (Eels)
Luke Metcalf (Warriors), Andrew Fifita (retired), Aiden Tolman (retired), Lachlan Miller (Knights)
The outlook has slightly changed for the Sharks in the past month as Lachlan Miller (Knights) and Kade Dykes (injury) are now unavailable as options should Will Kennedy get injured – as the incumbent did in 2022 between rounds 21 – 25.
However, the back five’s impressive strike has plenty in reserve with players of the calibre of Connor Tracey and Matt Ikuvalu unlikely to see significant time without an injury cruelling a regular’s chances.
Kayal Iro (more on him below) also looms as an option.
The Sharks will look to emulate their league-leading tackle busts (930, according to Fox Sports Lab)and line breaks (155, just one behind pace setters South Sydney) form of 2022 by again relying on their middle forwards and back five to create space for Nicho Hynes and Matt Moylan.
It’s in those middle forwards where the Sharks have considerable depth. Despite losing reinvigorated x-factor Fifita and the dependable Tolman, Cronulla can call on Rudolf, Hamlin-Uele, Hunt, Kaufusi and Finucane for considerable minutes, with fresh faces Jesse Colquhoun and Tom Hazelton also available.
Remember Jack Williams? The big body is also on track for a round 1 return from a shoulder injury should he be picked, giving Fitzgibbon plenty of options.
While you won’t see a Sharks forward until no. 48 (Toby Rudolf) in 2022’s post-contact metres leaders, Fitzgibbon will continue to emulate the premiership-winning Roosters’ sides of 2018/2019 with decoy runs aplenty. Of the top 10 in the NRL in 2022, four are Sharks forwards.
STRENGTHS: First choice back five
As mentioned above, should Miller and Dykes have been available, this would be even better but Cronulla’s first choice back five were running metre-eaters in 2022. Talakai (11th, according to Fox Sports Lab), Mulitalo (5th) and Ramien (9th) were well placed in their positional categories.
The Sharks also have space in their top 30 for a depth option, should one become available.
WEAKNESSES: Pivots depth
The lone backup option in the halves is Braydon Trindall, recently re-signed until the end of 2025, who has proven himself to be up to the standard when given the opportunity, but is currently stuck behind the Moylan/Hynes combination.
Will Moylan and Hynes – seemingly very similar players – be able to steer the Sharks around the park again in 2022? If not, Trindall’s history as a traditional organising seven could be a better fit for the reigning Dally M winner.
Matt Moylan. As far as halves pairings go, Hynes and Moylan blew every other team out of the water with a combined 44 try assists (Hynes 29, Moylan 15). The Eels were next best at 30.
How does that help Moylan? It doesn’t but it’s a nice stat regardless – and there are many that aren’t as forgiving of the veteran half.
What is forgiving is the combinations he has formed. On the right, with Will Kennedy in the Sharks’ slingshot attack when it’s absolutely humming, Moylan is a constant threat. The same with Teig Wilton on the left when the young backrower runs another one of his excellent lines.
When Moylan is at his best, Cronulla undoubtedly runs better shape and keeps defences guessing.
Cronulla may have an established and experienced roster, but they also have a number of players with a few NRL games or less to their name.
One of those young men is versatile outside back Kayal Iro, who played his sole first grade game in Round 24 last year against the Bulldogs, but will be looking for a much bigger role heading into 2023.
The son of former Kiwis player Kevin Iro and the nephew of Tony Iro, the 22-year-old is in the mix to push for a spot in the Sharks backline year after a stellar NSW Cup campaign for Newtown.
Iro finished the year as NSW Cup Player of the Year for the entire competition, finishing with 17 linebreaks and 14 tries for the Jets, before capping off the year by representing Cook Islands in the World Cup.
Cronulla clearly have high hopes for Iro, with the club re-signing him until the end of 2024 and promoting him to their top 30 roster for the next two years.
Rounds 22 – 26:
The Sharks will be cashing in their frequent flyer points after heading from Penrith to Perth (against the Rabbitohs), back home to Cronulla to play the Titans, then to Townsville before finishing up in Newcastle.
The club conceivably lose four of six and slide drastically down the ladder.
PREDICTED FINISH: 6th
For a side that finished second in the regular season, there are plenty willing to bet against Cronulla in 2023. Whilst they have a friendly draw in 2022, they’re hardly struggling in 2023: Just one five-day turnaround while facing Parramatta, Melbourne, the Roosters and Panthers just once each. They’ve also scored a blessed Origin run, with a bye ahead of Origin I, the Bulldogs ahead of Origin II and Wests Tigers ahead of Origin III.
So why sixth? A lot went right for the Sharks in 2022. They managed to outscore only the eighth-placed Raiders despite coming second and many key players had career years. That’s hard to reproduce.
Will Kennedy will improve the attack and another year with Craig Fitzgibbon at the helm will ensure the Sharks are a top eight team – how high they go remains to be seen.
2023 NRL LADDER PREDICTION
- Sydney Roosters
- Penrith Panthers
- Brisbane Broncos
- South Sydney Rabbitohs
- North Queensland Cowboys
- Cronulla Sharks
- Melbourne Storm
- Parramatta Eels
- Canberra Raiders
- Wests Tigers
- Canterbury Bulldogs
- St George Illawarra Dragons
- Manly Sea Eagles
- Newcastle Knights
- Gold Coast Titans
- New Zealand Warriors