The Sharks and Bulldogs – A Cautionary Tale

Bulldogs Player Kyle Flanagan and Sharks Player Josh Dugan
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Fox Sports have described the Sharks campaign as a “What the hell is going on?” type situation and even the official NRL website painted it as a “Crisis far from over”. As for another Sydney based side in the form of the Bulldogs, the Sydney Morning Herald called their current diabolical season “Bulldogs hit rock bottom”. While the official NRL website highlighted it as a “’ Poor’ start”. And the stark reality of both teams quickly faltering seasons is that none of the four headlines is wrong. In fact, they are all quite maddingly accurate.

Cronulla has won just 2 of their 9 games this season. Good for 13th on the NRL ladder. While for Canterbury they’ve won just 1/9 and sit dead last on the table. Their points differential (PD) is by far a league-worst -188. While for the Sutherland Shire side they also have a pretty poor PD of -66. Here is exactly why each team have stunk up the competition this season rather than having been a shining light during it.

Defence

Both teams have defences leakier than a burst drain pipe. Over Cronulla’s last two games they’ve gone down 48-0 to the Panthers and 40-14 to Melbourne. Whilst they’ve also conceded 26 points on two occasions this year, as well as 28 once. While for Canterbury they leaked 30 points to the Cowboys and have also conceded 32 points during three separate matches this season. During RD2 they lost 28-0, RD3 24-0, RD4 38-0 and RD5 52-18. Neither side will win many games conceding the number of points and leaking the number of tries that they currently are.

As much as that comes down to the players, equally the coaches must also take some responsibility for that. That seems fair enough, right? Well, this brings me to my next point.

Coaching

The laughable part for Cronulla is that they actually fired John Morris, the coach who led them to the finals two years in a row. Even though in both seasons he had an unbalanced and injury-plagued roster. And he’s also the same former player turned ex-Sharks head coach who has led them to their only two victories of the competition to date. Most pundits, most fans and pretty much everybody with even an ounce of common sense when it comes to the NRL knows what a horrible decision that was to let him go. Even Cronulla legend Paul Gallen described it as “harsh” as per WWOS. And that about sums it up perfectly. So, based on all of that, did the Sharks somehow expect a miraculous recovery? Their fans don’t deserve this, and their management is next to clueless.

As for the Belmore side, their head coach is Trent Barrett a man who was previously fired by Manly in what was the only head coaching gig of his career prior to working at Canterbury. He registered just a 40% winning percentage as coach of the Sea Eagles to put his much-scrutinised managerial career into some context for you. He also already co-owns one unwanted record as after his sides damaging Good Friday loss (38-0) to South Sydney his side became the second in the NRL era to not register a single point during three consecutive matches. With the massive injection of youth within the Bulldogs side, they should be faring far better than they are.

Sorry, Trent as a player you were one of the best, but as a coach, you seemingly cannot hack it and do more damage when it comes to being in charge of clubs.

Both teams Are One Dimensional

One more issue to focus on for both teams before this article wraps up is their over-reliance on certain types of players. For Cronulla, it’s too many over-paid and under-performing veterans. Whilst for Canterbury they rely significantly too heavily on young inexperienced players.

When analysing the Sharks, Andrew Fifita is a player that comes to mind. He is yet to register a game this season due to suspension. What good is he doing sitting on the sidelines? Especially when his side is struggling in almost every statistical category. Josh Dugan is another one. In his heyday for the Raiders and Dragons he was an absolute beast but now … he’s an injury-prone 31-year-old Centre. Going onto Shaun Johnson, sure when he was with the Warriors he was one of the best. Now from just three appearances this season he has 0 tries and just 1 try assist to his name… Ordinary from someone who was touted as “one of the worlds best halves” by Sharks CEO Barry Russell just 3 years ago. Matt Moylan is another, despite being placed in the incredibly creative position of Five-Eighth he has just 1 try and 1 try assist from this campaign. Need I go on? Cronulla has tried to make a winning team with once proven veterans, but it simply hasn’t worked out for them and now they’re stuck in mediocrity with no obvious escape on the horizon.

Kyle Flanagan starts most weeks for Canterbury and he’s only 22 years old. Sure, he had some decent success with the Roosters last season, but a monkey could perform well with Sydney given how much depth they have in each position. At Belmore however he’s clearly out of his depth. Jake Averillo is only 20 years old, yet he’s a Halves partner for Flanagan. Nick Meaney is 23 and he was the staring NO.5 in their most recent 20-point defeat to St George. They’re trying to do the traditional rebuild centred around predominantly young players, but it clearly isn’t working for them. They need more experience in more positions and getting thrashed most weeks will do the majority of these kids more harm than good.

Finally

In conclusion there’s a lot more damage to be done for both sides before they can reach the good times again. Cronulla need their guys fit and firing while the Doggies need their boys to learn at a more rapid pace. It’s also a testament to both fan bases for waiting through these crappy times, because it will get good again at some point within the next 2-3 years for each side. Good luck to each team against South Sydney and Canberra this round because they’ll certainly need it, that’s for sure.

Toby is somebody who is a knowledgeable and passionate sports fan, but none more than the NRL. From a young age, he has been covering and supporting Australia’s greatest code. He has diplomas in both sports and business, while he loves a good laugh, some good food and travelling.

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