Cronulla looked to be timing their run to perfection when they eventually nabbed a crucial top-four berth at the end of the regular season and even after falling one game short of the grand final, 2018 should be regarded largely as a success for Shane Flanagan's men.
They certainly had their fair share of injuries to contend with, as well as a slow start to the season as they felt their way into some new combinations.
To be a genuine premiership threat two seasons after taking out the 2016 title, with a large proportion of the premiership squad intact combined with some astute purchases, is a credit to Flanagan and the coaching staff as well as the club's recruitment and development strategy, with the still-new junior academy starting to pay dividends.
Cronulla proved a tough team for any other club to face right through 2018, and very rarely had a score put on them. The improvement of players like Val Holmes and Matt Moylan was a key factor in the Sharks nearly making it all the way to the premiership decider.
Holmes' sudden departure for the NFL has thrown a spanner into the works for next season however.
Their campaign ended in disappointing fashion when they suffered one of their most comprehensive defeats of the season in the grand final playoff match against perennial rivals Melbourne.
"We did well to get to the grand final qualifier after we faced a number of hurdles throughout the season," Sharks back-rower Wade Graham told NRL.com.
"At the start of the year we were struggling with combinations with Matty Moylan and Josh Dugan new to the club and with Val being switched from fullback to wing and back to fullback so we had our share of adversity.
"Throughout the year we had injuries to key players at different times but that gave opportunities to young guys to come in and they certainly played well.
"To reach a grand final qualifier is a great result as a club but within the playing group you always want more and to go that one step further.
"That makes us a highly motivated group going into this season to make 2019 that bit better than 2018. We were close but one game away from the big dance."
Home & Away record
8-4 home, 8-4 away
Cronulla remarkably finished up with an identical record in home games as they did in away games. If anything it underscores their consistency across the season, as well as the fact they are not at all intimidated by the tougher road trips in the NRL. Given they lost one home and one away game in the opening fortnight they managed an 8-3 winning record both home and away through the rest of the season.
Leading try scorers
In a stunning season from fullback Val Holmes, he racked up 21 tries through the regular season, just one behind competition leader David Fusitu'a. While some clubs had no players crack double figures for tries, the Sharks had three with Edrick Lee (11) and Jesse Ramien (10) also enjoying profitable seasons. None of that trio with be with Cronulla in 2019.
There are some slightly surprising numbers on show for the Sharks in terms of post-contact metres, given their power-packed forwards led by Andrew Fifita.
It is actually mid-season recruit Aaron Woods who was the king of post-contact in the Sutherland Shire, with 58.9 per game (this goes down to 54.7 for the season factoring in his games for Canterbury but still leaves him as the only Shark in the NRL top 10). Paul Gallen (52.1) was next best with Fifita back in third on 42.3 per game.
The Sharks overall were only 12th-best for post-contact metres per carry, at 2.86m. They were one of the best when it came to preventing post-contact metres - their 478 conceded per game was fourth best.
Try scoring – attacking channels
The Sharks dominated on the flanks and it didn't much matter which one, with 22 tries scored on both the left wing and the right. Only the Rabbitohs, Raiders, Roosters and Warriors had more success on the fringes. The Sharks also managed 20 right through the middle of the field.
Tries conceded – defending channels
There were no major red flags in Cronulla's try-conceding patterns - the most expensive area was the left wing with 19 conceded, while 16 came through the middle and 15 on the other wing. For the most part, they didn't concede long-range tries (just two from outside their own half – only Melbourne with zero were better).
Tries conceded from penalties
Cronulla's 201 penalties conceded was seventh-most but they didn't get punished in terms of tries conceded from penalties, at fifth-fewest (25).
A total of four sin bins for the season was equal-third best and they finished up basically level on the scoreboard across those periods, scoring two points more than they conceded through those 40 minutes for a net result of +0.5 points per sin bin.
Metres gained from offloads
Another stat in which the Sharks are lower than might be expected given the propensity of many of their forwards towards offloading, Cronulla were only eighth-best for metres gained from offloads with 68 per game.
Andrew Fifita was the league's second most prolific offloader with 70 behind Manly prop Martin Taupau (71), but the Sharks had no one else in the NRL top 35 for most offloads. Matt Prior (23), Paul Gallen and Matt Moylan (both 22) were next.
Turning four points into six wasn't Cronulla's strongest suit in 2018. The departure of James Maloney to Penrith left Val Holmes, Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan in a three-way shoot-out for the responsibility, with Townsend (74%) earning it to start the season before Holmes (75%) eventually took over five weeks out from the finals.
The club's final tally of 91 goals from 122 attempts at 74.6% was 13th best.
Holmes hit top form
Cronulla fullback Valentine Holmes had a wonderful season – after shaking off some early jitters that included some uninspired performances in the early rounds while getting shuffled between wing and fullback.
After making the No.1 jersey his own from round nine, the Maroons and Kangaroos flyer went on a tear. His 13 tries scored plus eight try assists in 16 starts from fullback earned him a per-game try involvement rate of 1.31 – well ahead of the league's second-best custodian, Tom Trbojevic (14 try assists and nine tries).
It may not be until he is missing in 2019 that his achievements will be truly appreciated.
"Val had a season where he was named our best player and it wasn't even a close race," Graham said.
"He was in a race by himself and has been a massive part of our success over the last few years.
"We have some super talented athletes throughout our game and if the NFL is a viable option that will only increase. These are options players are going to face throughout their career. In the past we have seen, closer to home, rugby union being a potential option but now guys like Jarryd Hayne and now Val have started looking at other options."
Ruck speed not a goal for Sharks
Fast play-the-balls in attack and slow play-the-balls while defending clearly aren't top of the Sharks' priority list because they finished at what would look like the undesirable end of both categories. Cronulla's average play-the-ball speed of 3.53 seconds was the slowest of any club.
Their opposition play-the-ball speed of 3.31 seconds was also the fastest of any team outside of Manly (3.30 seconds). It means that on average, every play the ball of the year was 0.22 seconds slower than that of their opponents – easily the biggest negative differential of any club.