‘It’s worth it’: Sharks shrug off Origin depth test

Jasper Bruce |

Coach Craig Fitzgibbon says Cronulla would only benefit from Origin call ups for key players.
Coach Craig Fitzgibbon says Cronulla would only benefit from Origin call ups for key players.

Cronulla are poised for their biggest State of Origin depth test since the Shane Flanagan era but coach Craig Fitzgibbon says it would be a small price to pay to see his players live out their NSW dreams.

In Fitzgibbon’s two previous seasons at the helm, the Sharks have escaped from the Origin period largely unscathed.

Siosifa Talakai and Nicho Hynes were selected in the 2022 and 2023 series respectively, but both played limited minutes from the bench and returned to Cronulla in fine fettle.

The Sharks’ record across the last two Origin periods stands at an impressive 8-3, taking into account games from the week before the series opener until the week after game three.

During John Morris’s tenure before the arrival of Fitzgibbon at the helm, the Sharks only had multiple Origin representatives in one of three seasons – Josh Morris and Wade Graham both selected for the Blues in 2019.

But with the Sharks surging to the top of the ladder this season, Blues coach Michael Maguire is expected to consider a handful of Cronulla players ahead of Sunday’s team announcement.

Hynes, Cameron McInnes and Jesse Ramien are tipped as strong contenders to play at Accor Stadium in Sydney on June 5, the last two as Blues debutants.

Blayke Brailey and Talakai are also in the frame.

The Cronulla call-ups shape as a throwback to Flanagan’s tenure between 2013 and 2018, when Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, James Maloney, Val Holmes, Michael Ennis, Luke Lewis and Jack Bird all earned Origin selection.

Clashes with fellow top-eight sides Brisbane and the Dolphins loom as the Sharks’ biggest tests of the Origin period this year.

But Fitzgibbon is keen to see his players rewarded for their strong start to the season – regardless of the implications for his side.

“It’s possible (it could test the Sharks) but if you look at it as a challenge and an opportunity, it’s more exciting than anything,” he said.

“The players that get rewarded with those jerseys, that’s something those boys have been dreaming of for a long time. So it’s worth it.”

Fitzgibbon pointed out the Origin period could benefit the Sharks in the long-term, with triple reigning premiers Penrith providing a blueprint for thriving once players returned from representative duty.

“We haven’t had many big-game players for the last few years,” Fitzgibbon said.

“If players are stepping up to the possibility of playing in big-game fixtures, it makes them better players.

“Ultimately if they come back to your team, your team’s stronger because you’ve got more players that have experienced the highest level.”

A former NSW assistant coach, Fitzgibbon said none of his prospective Blues would have sealed their spots just yet but could put the finishing touches on their selection cases during Saturday’s blockbuster clash with the Panthers.

“We’d love to see them rewarded with those jerseys but have got to also acknowledge the selection process, they’re not over the line yet,” he said.