Cronulla Sharks have bounced back in some style after recently enduring the longest consecutive period of play without scoring points in the history of professional rugby league. After going over five hours without scoring – including three consecutive games with zero points – the Sharks have somehow scored come from behind wins in two of the toughest away fixtures in the NRL, at Suncorp Stadium against the Broncos and against defending Premiers the Roosters.
In between those games, two key figures also departed the club. Todd Carney had his contract terminated for a now infamous photo that leaked (excuse the pun) on the internet, and interim coach Peter Sharp stood down just days later. The departure of Sharp came little more than a week after very public criticism from club captain Paul Gallen, confirming suspicions that a hellish couple of seasons off the field is beginning to take its toll on the spirit at the club.
Carney’s sacking has left a gaping hole in the Sharks’ halves options, an area they had tried to strengthen earlier in the year by chasing the signature of Benji Marshall. With some – but not all – of the distractions now behind them, the Sharks can at least look forward to fielding a more settled side. Key players affected by injury and State of Origin duty are now available again to fight the battle to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.
Even more remarkable than their two wins during this difficult period was the fact they finally secured a major sponsor. Labour Health have signed up for the rest of 2014, with an option for a further year as well.
Ironically, given the Sharks’ current predicament, Labour Health are a company who specialise in alcohol and drug testing. One can’t help but think what might have been had they come on board a few years previously.
The Sharks have a great opportunity to register a third consecutive win this Sunday afternoon, and strike a significant blow in their fight against fellow wooden spoon candidates Newcastle Knights. With the likes of Gallen, Luke Lewis and Andrew Fifita in contention to return, the Sharks regain a lot of strength in their forward pack.
The Knights have also rallied in their last two games to register back to back wins. However, coach Wayne Bennett confirmed this week that this is his last season at the club, and it remains to be seen how that will affect the morale of his team.
Following the clash with the Knights, Cronulla have three home games remaining in the 2014 season. All look very winnable, and success in these fixtures could well be enough to lift the Sharks away from the foot of the ladder.
Less than a week after the Knights game North Queensland Cowboys arrive at Remondis Stadium, along with their shocking record on the road in 2014. The Sharks then finish their home campaign with games against Parramatta Eels and Canberra Raiders.
Sunday 13th July, Remondis Stadium Cronulla 15:00
Cronulla Sharks v Newcastle Knights