Sharks: Team of the decade
Sharks: Team of the decade

Sharks team of the decade: The history makers

A premiership can change the life of a footballer.

So it comes as no great shock that the Cronulla players who created history for the Sharks in 2016 boast a clear advantage over every other player who pulled on the black, white and blue over the past decade.

By no means should the key role in taking Cronulla to repeated finals appearances (2012, 2013, 2015), from the likes of Luke Douglas, Todd Carney, John Morris and Michael Gordon be diminished.

And while a new breed in Bronson Xerri, Briton Nikora, Braden Uele and Jesse Ramien hold the keys to the Sharks next 10 years - it's the players that allowed an entire community to "Turn their porch lights off" that own the past decade.

 

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Ben Barba has to be part of the Sharks’ dream team. Photo: Mark Evans
Ben Barba has to be part of the Sharks’ dream team. Photo: Mark Evans

 

1. Ben Barba: Arrived at Cronulla in 2015 as a misguided five-eighth from the Broncos and departed prematurely two years later with a historic grand final try, a premiership ring and the most dominant year at fullback by a Cronulla player since David Peachey.

Barba transformed the Sharks attack in 2016 with his nimble feet, vision and deft passing game, similar to that of a second five-eighth - which was superior to that of his predecessor Gordon and his replacement Valentine Holmes.

2 Sosaia Feki: Hard-running and requiring two and three defenders to stop his momentum on kick-returns, Feki has played a big-hand in how coaches recruit and use their wingers in today's game. The softly-spoken Kiwi played 148-games for the Sharks between 2013 and 2019, finishing with 67-tries - fifth overall for most tries for the club.

 

Leutele was a powerhouse in that famous season. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images
Leutele was a powerhouse in that famous season. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images

 

3 Ricky Leutele: When Mick Ennis signed from the Bulldogs to the Sharks he could've chosen 10 other players he longed to play alongside. Yet he singled out Letuele. Ennis' belief in the underrated centre's talent proved spot-on. So strong from close range in attack, Leutele was an outstanding defender whose battle with Melbourne's Will Chambers was a year-on-year highlight.

4 Jack Bird: You do wonder whether Bird regrets his decision to ever leave Cronulla after three of the best years of his career which included Dally M rookie of the year honours in 2015, his NSW State of Origin debut in 2016 and a premiership the same year. At the Sharks, there were games he won on his own simply through his raw-boned talent. His bravery to play-on during the 2016 grand final with torn ligaments in his elbow will never be forgotten.

5 Valentine Holmes: Wants to become a fullback, but it's on the wing that Holmes was at his best. In 2016, the free-running Holmes equalled Andrew Ettingshausen's record of 19 for most tries in a season, while combined for Queensland and Australia he racked up 20 tries in 11 appearances between 2016 and 2018.

 

Maloney was the larrikin conductor in Cronulla’s premiership. Photo: AAP Image/Darren Pateman
Maloney was the larrikin conductor in Cronulla’s premiership. Photo: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

 

6 James Maloney: With ice in his veins and the daring spirit of a gambler, Maloney was instrumental to the Sharks success despite lasting just two seasons. Named the 2016 Dally M five-eighth of the year, Maloney's general kicking game was equal to that of Johnathan Thurston while his goalkicking saw him leave the Sharks with the second-most amount of points in a season (2016) behind Brett Kimmorley.

7 Chad Townsend: The only other consistent halfback at Cronulla over the past decade was Jeff Robson. And with respect to Robson, he was unable to guide the Sharks to the dizzy heights that Townsend has been able to achieve - and of which he continues to chase. The local junior has flourished after a brief stint at the Warriors (2014-2015), developing his kicking and running game, much to the plaudits of some of the game's best judges.

8 Andrew Fifita: An easy selection. Fifita, albeit not as dominant in his past 12 months as previous seasons, will go down as one of the Sharks greatest-ever forwards. His damage with the ball in-hand have been well-documented, but it's when he chooses to run hard and direct, that he's almost unstoppable. He arrived at Cronulla from the Tigers in 2012 and has since gone onto represent at every level of the game.

 

Fifita remains a devastating force on his day. Photo: Brett Costello
Fifita remains a devastating force on his day. Photo: Brett Costello

 

9 Michael Ennis: Not since Dean Treister have the Sharks boasted a more passionate dummy-half. Ennis' impact was similar to that of Maloney, not overly long in just three seasons - but everlasting. The cheeky hooker drove the opposition mad with his chatter, but the influence on his teammates, with his vision and management of the Sharks attack, was world class.

10 Matt Prior: Seriously underrated by the wider public, but not by his teammates. At a post-season function in 2016, Fifita broke down in tears when he spoke about how much he relied on his front-row partner. Prior's defensive line-speed was his trademark, while for a big-man his footwork was superb. Rewarded for his excellence with NSW Origin selection in 2018.

11 Luke Lewis: Say the name Luke Lewis and immediately you have visions of a hard-running backrower in a Sharks jumper, charging back on an unstoppable angle to plant the football down over the tryline with one hand. A tough yet classy footballer with soft hands, the 2016 Clive Churchill Medallist was an easy selection.

 

There’s no denying Graham‘s importance to Cronulla now. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
There’s no denying Graham‘s importance to Cronulla now. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

 

12 Wade Graham: Part of one of the best backrow's the Sharks have and will ever see, Graham's rise over the past decade has been expected due to his talent from an early age, but that shouldn't take away from his achievements. Graham has gone from a skinny five-eighth who arrived from Penrith in 2012, to one of the Sharks, state and country's most devastating ballplayers who can play with both brutality and sublime skill.

13 Paul Gallen (c): No contest. The greatest-ever Shark both for his individual achievements over the past decade, but also his inspiration qualities as a leader of Cronulla through their best and worst of times. The RLIF lock of the year in 2011 and 2012 with Australia, Dally M lock of the year in 2011, 2012 and 2017 with the Sharks and State of Origin's 2014 Wally Lewis medal winner when captain of NSW.

 

This meant everything to Paul Gallen. Photo: AAP Image/Craig Golding
This meant everything to Paul Gallen. Photo: AAP Image/Craig Golding

 

Interchange:

14 Anthony Tupou: It remains one of the great travesty's that Tupou, so devastating and influential for the Sharks between 2010 and 2015, left one season before the club's premiership year. The hard-running backrower had an incredible offload and was huge for the Sharks during their tougher years.

15 Jason Bukuya: Powerful, tireless in defence and unforgiving, Bukuya has been a mainstay of the Sharks for the past eight seasons with his 19-games in 2019, the least amount of games he's played since 2012. It gives an indication of how reliable he is and the respect he has from his coaches.

16 Chris Heighington: A vital addition to the Sharks in 2013, the former Tiger was critical to the fortunes of Cronulla. Bringing much-needed charchter to the dressing room, a relentless trainer, Heighington - like Bukuya - was ever dependable, highlighted by his achievements to join the 300-game club while at the Sharks.

17 Jeremy Smith: An unsung hero of the Sharks rebuild prior to their premiership. Shane Flanagan freely admits that Smith's arrival in 2011 will go down as one of his most important signings. Smith, with his physicality and steel in defence, set a new standard for the Sharks at a time when they were seen as fodder for their rivals.

News Corp Australia


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