LOOK AHEAD AND FORGET OLD DAZE
FORGET the past, play for the future.
Deep inside the away team dressing room at WIN Stadium last Friday night, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan held up his pointer finger and began drawing an imaginary line in the sand.
The Sharks and their reputable steel, scrap and courage had just had 40 points put on them by St George Illawarra.
Reputations were on the floor. Which is why Flanagan, leaving nothing behind, spoke to his players about moving on together — and fast.
“If we’re going to evolve as a group, relying on our reputations of our past isn’t us,’’ Flanagan told The Sunday Telegraph. “We’re a new team, we’ve got new faces, quality new leaders, but we need to play with a new purpose and resolve.
“We should definitely take some of the values from 2016 — but we can also raise the bar as well. This is a new era.
“When I look at this 2018 team, I see a team that could do something special together, but for that to happen, we need to realise that all that matters is what we do in the future. “For us, that’s Sunday.’’ New team is right. Of the 17 players who featured in Cronulla’s historic premiership win over Mel- bourne in 2016, 11 are missing from a crucial clash with Penrith at Shark Park this afternoon. Only Valentine Holmes, Ricky Leutele, Chad Townsend, Matt Prior, Andrew Fifita and Luke Lewis remain in today’s line-up from the premiership class of 2016.
Fifita and Lewis, who were in doubt with injury, only need a final medical clearance today to be declared certain starters.
The swap of Penrith’s James Maloney and Sharks pivot Matt Moylan has attracted the headlines ahead of today’s clash. Maloney is just one of the many changes from an incredible turnover of personnel at Cronulla in just 18 months.
Leutele — nicknamed ‘Ricky-The Tackle-Leutele’ by Sharks tragics after making the last crucial tackle against Melbourne in the 2016 grand final — said he was aware of the role he could play in a new-look Sharks side.
“With the new faces, one of my jobs I try and do is to make sure that they know I have full confidence in them,’’ Leutele said. “That’s what develops success. I can see it getting closer to that now.
“We don’t have many players from the 2016 side, but we’ve got the same mindset and similar values as 2016 — we’ve just got to put it into action on the field.
“We’re not focused on the past, we’re focused on work- ing hard together to make it click, which I know it will.’’
In-form forward Joseph Paulo, who made his NRL debut with Penrith, missed the 2016 grand final due to injury.
But having played 152NRL matches he realises how, in the absence of injured leaders Paul Gallen and Wade Graham this afternoon, how influential he can be for Cronulla.
“Having these young guys come in, myself and Matty (Prior), those boys that have been part of the last few years need to step it up,’’ Paulo said. “We need to take ownership of it. It’s not about talking more, it’s about continuing to lead and give the new guys confidence.”