Cronulla searching for Sharks DNA
Cronulla players have hit back at claims they have lost their trademark tenacity but conceded a torrid run with injuries and the blooding of fresh faces has blunted the Sharks' hard edge in 2019.
Earlier this week former hooker Michael Ennis - who helped deliver the Sharks' first ever NRL title in 2016 - criticised the Shire club for losing the "Cronulla way" and their "ruthless attitude, especially defensively".
But skipper Wade Graham believes the inability of coach John Morris to name his best 17 this year has left the side searching for its identity.
"Every team has an identity and every team's identity changes with the personnel they have. We are still searching for ours this year because we have had too many changes," Graham said.
"That's probably been the only consistent thing for us this year, has been the changes we've had to make every week.
"We're still fighting hard to find that [our identity]. I know what Mick [Ennis] is talking about, the way it feels to play as a Shark, the way it looks… I don't think it's gone, we're just still searching as a team."
Back-rower Graham said injuries to the likes of Shaun Johnson, Matt Moylan and Andrew Fifita over the course of the season had robbed the Sharks of any fluency in key combinations on the field.
"It's hard when you have players coming in and out… not just young guys, you have some of your most influential players. When Moysa's [Moylan] in the team we play a different style to when Duges [Dugan] is at fullback. If I'm in the team, we play a different style than most backrowers would." he said.
"So not only do we lose players, we change our style changes because of our personnel.
"It's hard to adjust on the run. I'd love for it to be round 10 with these problems because we'd still have time to figure it out."
Of the senior players missing, Townsend believes Graham's time on the sideline with an ACL and then a hamstring injury proved to be the most costly. The NSW Blues forward has been limited to six games this year.
The playmaker said Graham's addition on the paddock takes the Sharks to another level.
"He brings a skill set, a passing game as that no other backrower has got in the competition and defences don't know how to handle it. When Wade is in the team there's an air of confidence that he's around," Townsend said.
In 2016, the Sharks had one of the most experienced rosters in the competition but this year coach Morris has handed NRL debuts to six youngsters, including Blayke Brailey, Briton Nikora and Bronson Xerri.
It's a move that halfback Chad Townsend believes has forced the club into a transition period.
"Our team has evolved and changed a lot this season. We've had a very senior roster [in the past]. Six debutants is unheard of here at the Sharks, so we are evolving as a team and these new guys need to come in and learn the culture and learn the style of play," he said.
Morris was denied the opportunity to name a full-strength side for Saturday's must-win clash against the New Zealand Warriors at PointsBet Stadium after Moylan suffered another hamstring injury last weekend against St George Illawarra.