‘Long way to go’: Fitzy downplays Sharks’ strong start

Jasper Bruce |

Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon has downplayed the Sharks’ strong start to the NRL season.
Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon has downplayed the Sharks’ strong start to the NRL season.

Craig Fitzgibbon has downplayed Cronulla’s strong start to the NRL season as the Sharks eye the chance for a full-strength line-up in the coming weeks.

The Sharks finished round six atop the ladder, marking the first time since their 2016 premiership season they had led the competition at the end of a weekend.

Cronulla can hold top spot by beating North Queensland at Shark Park on Sunday, which would mark a stronger start to the year through seven rounds than in that drought-breaking premiership campaign.

In 2016, the Sharks recorded two losses in the opening seven games, though admittedly did have one extra fixture than this year’s team.

But Fitzgibbon still needs to see improvement from his Sharks, who suffered a big loss to Wests Tigers in round three and were made to fight back from 18-0 down to beat Canberra a week later.

“It’s a long way to go,” the coach said.

“We’ve had some periods in games where we might’ve missed a kick or had some wobbles throughout periods of the game.

“We’re trying to fine-tune those, but I think we’ve played some decent footy at times. All the while, I feel like we can improve.”

The Sharks were forced to cope with injuries and suspensions to a handful of regular first-graders to start the season. Briton Nikora, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Dale Finucane, Toby Rudolf and Royce Hunt are among those to have spent time on the sidelines.

Hamlin-Uele returns from his knee injury to face his former club the Cowboys in his first game of the year, with fellow prop Hunt (calf) and winger Sione Katoa (suspension) due back next week.

Only fringe first-grader Jesse Colquhoun will be listed in the casualty ward after that, and Fitzgibbon hopes consistency on the team-sheet leads to improvement on the field.

“We have quite an unsettled line-up at the moment, so the more footy we get done, the better chance of that happening,” he said.

Samuel Stonestreet
Samuel Stonestreet (left) is set to make his NRL debut for Cronulla on a wing. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Prized for his speed, local product Samuel Stonestreet replaces Katoa on the wing for his NRL debut on Sunday.

“He’s obviously a pretty rare athlete if you look at the size, the height, the speed and skill of him,” Fitzgibbon said.

“It’s a great story as well, local junior, he was a fan of the club as a kid.

“It really means something to him, to play for Cronulla, and obviously to make his debut at home. He’s fought hard for that.”