At both the Raiders and the Roosters, Todd Carney proved to be a real talent on the field and a regular embarrassment off it. Is he the right fit for the Cronulla Sharks?
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The big question
He's an occasional superstar on the field, and a regular bad boy off it. But after signing on with his third club this week, will Todd Carney finally make the Cronulla Sharks a force in the NRL?
The Cronulla Sharks are a club with a lot of tradition but not a lot of success, having reached three grand finals – but won none – in a history dating back to 1967.
Sharks fans have waited longer than anyone for that elusive rugby league premiership, and a Dally M medallist capable of taking a wooden-spooning-winning team all the way to the grand final might be just what they need.
Of course, Carney did just that in his first season for the Sydney Roosters, coming after a year in the wilderness as the NRL kept him out of the game following his sacking by the Canberra Raiders for repeated off-field infringements.
The talented playmaker took out the Dally M medal as the game's best player in 2010, and will add genuine class to a Cronulla outfit that has been too reliant on inspirational captain Paul Gallen in recent seasons.
The Sharks have had real problems scoring points regularly over last few years, and Carney should give them a significant boost in that department. His arrival should also benefit young halfback Chad Townsend, giving the 20-year-old plenty to learn from on the training field and allowing him to avoid the second-year syndrome that has hit other rising playmakers in the past (see Daniel Mortimer, for one).
Carney is also versatile, capable of filling a role at halfback, five-eighth and fullback – providing plenty of depth should custodian Nathan Gardner or any of the Sharks halves succumb to injury.
And, taking a glass-half-full approach, even Carney's off-field antics have been on the improve. No longer is he leading police on car chases or lighting his friends' pants on fire; in the end he was fired by the Roosters for breaking a team drinking ban, not for breaking any laws.
Surely, surely now he must understand that this will be his final chance to play in the NRL, which should be incentive enough to keep out of trouble.
Carney has been given second chances before – he had a few at the Raiders and a few more at the Roosters, but continued to get himself into trouble. What's to say he has learned his lesson now? He's an old hand at giving apologies and making promises to do better, but he's so far failed to live up to them.
If Carney goes off the rails again at Cronulla it could well derail morale at the Shire team, ruining any benefit they may get from his playing talent. Worse still, the Sharks are not in a financial position to cope if any ugly headlines scare away any of the club's existing sponsors.
And questions remain about how much improvement he will bring to the team. The halves happens to be one area in which the Sharks already have plenty of depth, with Townsend, Albert Kelly, 2011 signing Wade Graham and new recruit Jeff Robson all battling for positions. Now three of those players will be either left warming the bench or be moved to play out of position – and therefore become less effective – in a bid to cover the Sharks' problems in the centres.
Carney's form in 2011 was nothing to write home about, with the Roosters often limp in attack despite Carney teaming up with NSW Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce and another former Blues half in Brath Anasta. Could his best already be behind him? Carney's defenders could point to the intense pressure and media scrutiny he faced this year as a reason for his below-par performances, but that media attention won't get any lighter in 2012 as he starts life as the star signing at a new club.
Despite his faults – and there are many – Todd Carney will probably be a good buy for the Sharks, and possibly a great one. The club is unlikely to ban him from drinking altogether, having seen that tactic fail at the Roosters, but Carney will still need to curb his social habits if he is to avoid more unwanted headlines.
Assuming he can do that – and at the age of 25 you'd like to think he could – Carney could be just the ticket for the Sharks. He's a game-breaker capable of winning games on his own, and should be a perfect fit for a side that is heavy on forward muscle but light on genuine class and experience in the backline.
Combined with the emergence of attacking threats Kelly and Gardner and the tireless efforts of Gallen, Carney's arrival might – just might – make the Sharks capable of breaking their premiership duck at last.