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Fitzgibbon era gets underway

He was quick to remind a crowd of around 70 at the Sharks at Kareela club that he is just one of many parts which will need to come together to make the Sharks successful on 2022, however after listening to incoming coach Craig Fitzgibbon, those gathered still left with a considerable measure of positivity about what lies ahead. 

At a ‘post’ Grand Final luncheon, one rescheduled from its regular time slot and held to continue a tradition that has now extended to 44 years, Fitzgibbon was joined by Sharks immortals Gavin Miller and Andrew Ettingshausen, the recently retired Paul Gallen, current skipper Wade Graham, 2022 recruit Cameron McInnes and Fitzgibbon’s father Allan, the club’s head coach from 1988 until 1991. 

It was an intimate gathering where those in the room heard from Fitzgibbon about his decision to join the Sharks, his memories of being a ballboy for his dad when Alan coached the likes of Miller and Ettingshausen, as well as his excitement about tackling the challenges associated with a head coaching gig. 

He also let the crowd in on his plans for new recruit Nicho Hynes, while expressing his excitement to also be adding McInnes and Dale Finucane to the Sharks playing roster. 

“I’ve had ample opportunity to wrap my head around what it’s going to feel like,” he began when asked about swapping the Roosters colours he has represented for 20 years for a Sharks polo shirt.

“There’s an element of nostalgia there that is hard to ignore. There were a number of elements that helped my decision, but I also needed to be sure I wasn’t taking a position on nostalgia.

Touted as the next man up in relation to coaching opportunity amongst the NRL clubs, Fitzgibbon explained how he came to choose the Sharks for his first head coaching assignment. 

“I never really got too serious investigating any (other) opportunities because of a couple of reasons,” he said.

“Number one, I didn’t feel like I was ready. The role is not to be taken lightly and anyone who has jumped in too soon has been chewed up and spat out pretty quickly. I felt like I needed to be 100 per cent I was ready to coach.

“Second of all, I wanted to fit a club and walk into a position where I thought I could represent the club well and that the club represents what I’m about. I don’t just want to be a coach, I want to win. 

“I felt like the club was in a position, in a number of ways, that made it attractive. I felt the Sharks had already been put together very well, with plenty of upside and once I’d made the decision, that weight kind of left me and now it’s been nothing other than excitement and enthusiasm going forward,” Fitzgibbon explained. 

The new Sharks coach then went on to speak of his satisfaction as to the staff he had been able to assemble, with the experienced Steve Price and Josh Hannay, along with emerging coach Daniel Holdsworth his NRL assistants next year, while Fitzgibbon touched on his thoughts as to the playing roster and his plans for Hynes, who has made a name for himself as a fullback at the Melbourne Storm this year. 

“A lot of people wouldn’t know, but Nicho has only just started playing fullback in the last 12 to 18 months,” Fitzgibbon said. “He actually grew up as a half, and he’s been a half most of his life. We signed him as a half.

“We’ve got four really good halves on our books. I haven’t even watched a training session with our existing halves, but competition for spots makes everything competitive.

“We need to complement a style that makes Nicho look the same way he did this year because he’s pretty exciting. If he wears No.7 or No.6, I’m not going to change the way he plays,” he added. 

During what was an entertaining afternoon, Fitzgibbon made way for McInnes, who also expressed his determination to be a part of a successful Sharks side, with Fitzgibbon senior, Ettingshausen and Miller reminiscing about their time in the black, white and blue, while offering their best wishes to the new coach ahead of the upcoming season.  

The event, the first conducted after the season rather than on the Friday prior to the premiership decider, was held for a restricted crowd due to Covid protocols. It hosted some attendees who had been at more than 40 of the previous 44 Sharks Grand Final luncheons, some who had been at each and every one, with CEO Dino Mezzatesta thanking those in the room for their continued support and commitment to the Cronulla Club.

Fitzgibbon and the first group of Sharks NRL squad members begin pre-season training on November 4. 

Craig Fitzgibbon and his father Alan, the Sharks head coach from 1988 to 1991
Craig Fitzgibbon and his father Alan, the Sharks head coach from 1988 to 1991