Sharks look to tie down GF squad
Photo Source: AAP
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is confident he will have all but one (the retired Michael Ennis) of his history-making premiership-winning side back for the 2017 NRL season-opener.
Whether they all intend to be there the following year is the bigger question.
Just days after claiming the first premiership in the club's history, the Sharks face the perennial premiers' challenge of keeping their grand final-winning team intact.
The first call of business for Flanagan is sorting the immediate futures of veterans Chris Heighington and Sam Tagataese, who are both currently without a club.
"Taga was going to move on. He's probably going to go to England but he wants to stay another year," Flanagan said.
"We haven't worried about it over these last couple of weeks. Him and Heighno - if they want to play again, we'll try and keep them here."
The stiffer task follows not long after.
Backline stars Ben Barba, Valentine Holmes, Jack Bird, Sosaia Feki and Chad Townsend join captain-in-waiting Wade Graham as players due to come off the books at the end of next season.
Holmes and Bird in particular could fetch astronomical money on the open market, however, the club could have money to spend should skipper Paul Gallen call stumps after 2017.
Luke Lewis also has just one year left and will be 34 by the start of the next finals series.
Flanagan is confident of staving off heavy interest in Holmes and Bird, and that both will have long-term deals to stay in the Shire by the start of next season.
"They're not a problem. They're both committed to the club, they're not going anywhere so I don't see an issue with that especially on the back of this (grand final win)," he said.
New recruit Manaia Cherrington is the early favourite to wear the No.9 jumper of Ennis, although the club is also keen on under-20s rake Jayden Brailey.