The Sharks loaded up for the 2012 season and took a big gamble on bad boy Todd Carney
Photo: Getty Images
SIX THINGS: A massive recruitment drive saw the Sharks hit the finals but go out on a hollow note...
Despite a disappointing 13th-place finish in 2011, perennial bridesmaids Cronulla had high hopes for 2012 after an overhaul of their playing list in the off-season.
Led by coach Shane Flanagan, an aggressive recruitment drive and list clean-out saw the Shire shake off the remnants of the Ricky Stuart era and acquire the likes of X-factor five-eighth Todd Carney, forwards Mark Taufua and Andrew Fifita and bookends Jon Green and Bryce Gibbs.
A clutch of first-graders and fringe dwellers went out the door, including Kade Snowden, Luke Douglas, Taulima Tautai and Jon Mannah, making the Sharks of 2012 almost unrecognisable from the side that couldn't get a foothold the previous year.
Of course, inspirational skipper Paul Gallen remained a constant in the black, white and blue.
Round 3: Cronulla 17-14 Manly
After losing their opening two matches, this win got the Sharks going in 2012. The home team dominated possession against the reigning premier and raced to a 17-0 half-time lead.
However, Manly scored three tries between the 63rd and 77th minutes to almost snatch it. Paul Gallen was typically superb with 249m and 34 tackles. Jason Bukuya and Stewart Mills busted eight tackles apiece.
Todd Carney and Jeff Robson teamed together for the first time and showed signs of a useful halves pairing. This win began a sequence of six straight victories for the Sharks.
Round 10: Cronulla 12-10 Melbourne
After a narrow loss to the Bunnies, beating the previously undefeated ladder-leaders showed the Sharks were back on track and gave them a 7-3 record from the opening 10 matches. Isaac Gordon scored early but Melbourne hit back then took the lead in the 27th minute. Cronulla's grinding work was rewarded in the 71st minute when Jeremy Smith smashed across from dummy-half and Todd Carney converted truly. Although missing skipper Gallen, the Sharks conceded just one line break to the potent Melbourne outfit. Bryce Gibbs had one of his best games as a Shark, supported by fellow forwards Wade Graham, Bukuya and Andrew Fifita. In the final minutes there were several close calls, but Gordon stopped Billy Slater one-on-one and soon after defused a Cooper Cronk bomb to ensure the impressive victory.
Round 18: Cronulla 14-14 Roosters
The Sharks had only had three losses since round two, and some people were even predicting they could push on to win the minor premiership when they hosted the lowly Roosters on a cold Monday night. Cronulla scored two tries to one in the first half and pushed out to a 14-8 lead on the back of three penalty goals. With four minutes left in the match the Roosters conjured a converted try to Aidan Guerra and took the game into extra time. After ten further minutes the scores remained deadlocked. Stand-in Sharks captain Graham had a seemingly fair try disallowed for allegedly bouncing the put-down, then at the other end BJ Leilua was awarded a try by the video ref even though Graham appeared to be taken out in the lead-up. The game degenerated into a frenzy of unsuccessful field-goal attempts, with seven shots at one-pointers all off-target. A win would have pushed the Sharks to second on the ladder – and, at the end of the season, an extra point would have given them a home final against Canberra rather than vice versa.
Round 22: Warriors 4-45 Cronulla
After drawing with the Roosters, the Sharks lost three in a row and travelled to NZ desperately needing a spark to reignite their campaign. That is what they got - a rampaging victory over the Warriors, prompting NZ coach Brian McLennan to call it "the darkest day of our season." Carney returned from injury to score the first two tries, kick eight goals from eight and slot a field goal for a personal tally of 25 points. Gallen also returned from injury and ran 183m to go with 19 tackles. Fifita recorded Gallen-like stats and joined Carney and John Williams as two-try scorers. "It's not just what Gal does on the field, it's the presence and confidence he gives to the players around him," Sharks coach Flanagan said afterwards.
Round 23: Newcastle 26-4 Cronulla
Following their commanding performance on the eastern side of the Tasman, the Sharks served up a mediocre display in Newcastle. It was a 63-point turnaround from the winning margin of the previous round. The Knights scored the first three tries and the last two, a run interrupted only by Williams' 56th-minute four-pointer. Gallen and Gibbs got little support from the other forwards. Carney made three errors, Isaac De Gois missed seven tackles and Robson missed six as the visitors were trounced. The Knights' backline combined for one of its best showings of a moderate season, brilliantly orchestrated by Jarrod Mullen who scored the first try and had a hand in three others. This result all but put paid to Cronulla's aspirations for a top-four finish in 2012.
Elimination final: Raiders 34-16 Sharks
A season which promised much ended on a hollow note with a first-round exit from the finals. Ricky Leutele opened the scoring in the sixth minute but three Canberra tries put the home side up 16-6 at the break. Cronulla lost Todd Carney to a serious Achilles injury in the 48th minute but Wade Graham scored in the subsequent passage of play. With a Nathan Stapleton try in the 60th minute the Sharks were within two points and had the momentum. However, a disallowed try to Jeff Robson was followed by ill-discipline and lapses in concentration and Canberra poured on four tries in the final 13 minutes to seal the game. Gallen worked hard for 121m and 33 tackles but seemed hampered by two hits from Canberra's Josh Papalii, one high and the other both late and from behind. Colin Best had two try assists in his final game and John Morris worked hard at dummy-half when called into action off the bench, but overall it was a bitter end to a year in which the Sharks looked bound for better things.
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