The Sharks scraped through to the finals last season but after going down to the Roosters in golden point, Craig Fitzgibbon's men were left to ponder another opportunity lost in the play-offs.
With Nicho Hynes, Will Kennedy, Briton Nikora, Jesse Ramien, Blayke Brailey, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Siosifa Talakai and Sione Katoa all on board for at least the next two seasons, Cronulla's big guns get their chance to make amends for the disappointment of their sixth straight finals defeat.
Need to beat the beat the big guns
The Sharks have all the firepower to push for another top-eight finish in 2024 but in order to overcome their finals hoodoo, must find a way to beat the top teams. Last season's 13-12 loss to the Roosters marked a sixth-consecutive finals defeat for the club, with their last September success dating back to 2018 against the Panthers. Only the Raiders had a worse defensive record among the top-eight sides last season with the Sharks unable to beat the Panthers, Broncos, Warriors or Storm. Whether it's icing the close matches or kicking off to an early lead, the Sharks need to find a way to keep up with the bug guns in 2024.
Hynes: 'It's heart-breaking'
Momentum the key
We saw just how far a hot streak can take teams with the Knights and Roosters both keeping their finals hopes alive with a run of wins to end the season. And if the Sharks could string more than three wins together next season, they could be one of the more feared sides in the competition. Momentum and consistency was a significant challenge for Cronulla last season, having recorded no more than three consecutive victories in 2023. Having lost a wealth of experience following the departures of Wade Graham (297 games) and Matt Moylan (191 games), momentum will be key to instilling confidence in the up and comers early in the season.
Have the Sharks found their strongest spine?
Nicho Hynes will once again steer the ship for the Sharks next season but there could be some new competition for the spot beside him. This year we saw Braydon Trindall finally get his shot at five-eighth after biding time behind a string of quality playmakers including Shaun Johnson, Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan. With Moylan headed for the Super League, Trindall emerges as Cronulla's first-choice five-eighth in 2024 but will have returning utility Kade Dykes (ACL) and Daniel Atkinson asking plenty of questions at training. While the Sharks spine showed moments of brilliance in 2023, Craig Fitzgibbon could test some new combinations to find the perfect match next year.
Can tough and tireless Brailey ask more questions in attack?
He made more tackles than any other player in the regular season and was a constant threat in the middle of the Sharks ruck but hooker Blayke Brailey needs to find more spark in attack in 2024. Only Manly and Parramatta had less dummy half runs than the Sharks last season and in 2022 - only Manly and Titans. The 25-year-old could set the tone for Cronulla early in the season if he finds a way to ask more questions from defenders and put the opposition on the back foot. Having spent time in camp with the Blues as a non-playing member of the squad last season, Brailey will be hoping to remain in Origin conversations and continue his development under the likes of Api Koroisau and Damien Cook.
The winning moment: Brailey
Are they the most settled side heading into 2024?
With the recently announced Billy Burns and Michael Gabrael the only new faces so far for 2024, the Sharks are one of the most settled sides heading into next season. With all but three of the players that went down to the Roosters in last season's final are contracted until at least the end of 2025, Cronulla's big guns will be ready to pick up where they left off last season. While there has been little shopping externally, the club has have re-signed some important names with forward Toby Rudolf locked in until 2026 and young guns Jayden Berrell, Mawene Hiroti and Kade Dykes also signing new delas.