A top two finish and a straight sets exit from the finals: 2022 was a wild ride for Sharks fans and players alike.
While coach Craig Fitzgibbon and his three big-name recruits – Dale Finucane, Cameron McInnes and Nicho Hynes – all delivered, the Sharks could not deliver when it mattered – losing twice in a row for the first time in 2022 and conceding more than 30 points in back-to-back weeks after only doing it twice during the season.
Check out the below for the breakdown of Cronulla’s season.
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The Sharks OVER-DELIVERED on expectations in 2022.
We had them landing in fifth spot in our 2022 pre-season predictions, with some unease over how the Hynes – Moylan partnership would work.
The 70th minute of the qualifying final against the Cowboys.
Dale Finucane spilled the ball at the Cowboys’ line after some heavy – it’s always heavy – contact from Jason Taumalolo, leaving the Sharks 10 minutes of defending and an eight-point buffer to make it happen.
From there it all went exceptionally pear shaped. An offside ruling. Connor Tracey’s professional foul. A tough Captain’s Challenge call on Matt Moylan. A Talakai knockdown/intercept attempt. Taumalolo’s line break and try.
Finally, Holmes’ long-range bomb of a field goal.
A preliminary final was within reach but, ultimately, Cronulla couldn’t close out the game.
It’s hard to go past the 40-6 drubbing of Manly at Brookvale Oval in Round 23. While a win against a team outside the top eight is rarely headline news, the Sharks snapped a seven-game losing streak at Brookie without Siosifa Talakai, Toby Rudolf, Will Kennedy and Kade Dykes on the field.
More than anything, it was proof of what Cronulla could be, with Hynes scoring two tries, setting up one, kicking a 40-20 and notched up six goals for a personal tally of 20.
The defensive line wasn’t breached until the 77th minute and even then it was an intercept try against the run of the play.
Moylan ran the ball and scored a try. The back five all ran for over 100 metres. A top four position was secured.
For a game against an under-performing Sea Eagles, round 23 showed Sharks fans a glimpse of what their team can be.
At the time of writing, the Dally M winner is unknown – but it could be Hynes.
21 try assists and 29 line break assists makes for impressive reading, but it’s the comments from former Shark Paul Gallen that reveal Hynes immediate and future impact on the Sharks.
“He’s a real leader and it’s something that I did not expect from him at all,” Gallen said in March.
“He’s a real leader on the field, at training and in meetings.”
The Sharks have the components for a sustained run inside the top four but they need to put it all together.
While much has been made about the leadership and front row engine loss of Andrew Fifita and Aiden Tolman, at least the leadership side of the ledger isn’t as dire as it seems.
Wade Graham remains and, with Finucane and McInnes as standard bearers, the emergence of Nicho Hynes’ leadership credentials will greatly soften the blow of the two forwards’ exit.
However, the questions over the front row rotation will remain. Toby Rudolf and Royce Hunt had career years in 2022, while Braden Hamlin-Uele was also impressive. Finucane may well find himself in the front row in 2023, with McInnes and the returning Jack Williams available to slot into lock.
Jesse Colquhoun and Tom Hazleton will be looking to build on their NRL debuts as well.
Oregon Kaufusi (Eels)
Luke Metcalf (Warriors), Andrew Fifita (released)