Morris overseeing changing of the guard at Sharks

If critics think the Sharks aren't the same team as in previous years they are right, as there are more first-season rookies in the side to play North Queensland on Thursday night than members of the club's 2016 grand final-winning team.

Ball-playing forward Billy Magoulias will become the sixth Cronulla player to make his NRL debut this season after being named on the interchange bench for the Pointsbet Stadium clash in a side featuring fellow rookies Bronson Xerri, Briton Nikora, Blayke Brailey and Ronaldo Mutialo.

Captain Paul Gallen, halfback Chad Townsend, interchange prop Matt Prior and winger Sosaia Feki are the only members of this week's team who were involved in the Sharks' first premiership team just three seasons ago.

While many think of Cronulla as a tough and experienced roster which knows how to win close games, new coach John Morris has overseen a transition of the club's playing stocks by backing young talent, including Kyle Flanagan and Braden Hamlin-Uele, who each played one NRL match last season.

Sharks players celebrate their grand final win in 2016.
Sharks players celebrate their grand final win in 2016. ©NRL Photos

Fullback William Kennedy was also given his NRL debut by Morris earlier in the season.

"We have got to acknowledge that it is a new-look side at the moment, we have got more debutants in this side than grand final players from 2016," Morris said.

"Even if you look at our preliminary final team from last year there are eight from our team who aren't there now. We need to be honest and realise the personnel has changed a fair bit."

However, Morris said the culture of the club had not changed and he still expected Cronulla teams under his guidance to demonstrate the same drive, determination and win-at-all costs attitude that the Sharks were renowned for.

"That is the Sharks DNA that we try to drive in our performance," Morris said. "That is ingrained in this club and we will the boys will continue to make sure it is at the forefront of everything we do.

"This is a strong club and it is a resilient club, and we will bounce back."

After five consecutive losses, Morris accepted critics would seek reasons for the team's slump but the NRL's youngest coach denied that he was too close to his players and defended under-fire stars Josh Morris, Josh Dugan, Shaun Johnson and Andrew Fifita.

Morris hooked Johnson in the dying minutes of Cronulla's round 16 loss to Brisbane and he has decided that either Josh Morris or Dugan will have to play wing or fullback to accommodate Xerri at left centre.

"I have made big calls all year," Morris said. "I have not picked players or picked players on the bench, and I am not afraid to make those decisions. You have to as a head coach.

"I will continue to do the best thing for the team and if that means senior players missing out or not getting the game time they want so be it as long as it's in the best interests of the team."

Match: Sharks v Cowboys

Round 19 -

Full Time
Sharks

Home Team

Sharks

Scored 16 points
Cowboys

Away Team

Cowboys

Scored 14 points

Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Sydney

Match broadcasters:

  • Nine Network
  • Foxtel
  • LIVE PASS

Fifita apologised after being sin-binned for a late tackle during the second half of last Friday night's 19-18 loss to the Warriors in Wellington and despite back-to-back suspensions his discipline has improved this season.

"He apologised, he understood it was a huge moment in the game," Morris said. "We also gave away two other penalties that led to points but he is disappointed that he let the team down.

"It was unwarranted what he did and he knows he stuffed up there. He has actually been working real hard on his discipline and he has only given away 13 penalties this year whereas last year he gave away 33."

With the Sharks having just two play-the-balls close to the Warriors line, compared to 40 by the home team, Morris said it had been difficult for Johnson to impose himself on the game.

Morris said he was disappointed to lose Flanagan to Sydney Roosters but the 20-year-old halfback wanted a release from the final two years of his contract after being given an opportunity to replace Cooper Cronk next season.