History Of The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
By Jamie Apps
When people think Cronulla sports the first team that springs to mind is almost always the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. Following their recent heartbreaking exit from this year's NRL Finals Series Neighbourhood Media wanted to dig back into the history of the club before then looking to the future of the beloved black, white & blue.
Founded in 1963 as Cronulla-Caringbah the team would officially become the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in 1967 when they joined the New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL) competition. The debut season would begin with a bang when the Sharks defeated one of the founding clubs of the NSWRFL, Easter Suburbs, in their fast match. Unfortunately though the club would come to learn they had stepped up to a new level of competition & would finish the season in last place after winning only two more games.
The following year the club would make history again as the first club to own their home ground when they relocated to Endeavour Field in Woolooware, now affectionately known as Shark Park.
In terms of success the journey of the team & its fans has been quite the roller coaster ride over the course of 56 years. Over the years the team has earned 3 wooden spoons (finished last on the premiership table), has made 24 finals appearances, won 2 minor premierships (finishing top of the table after the regular season), finished runner up on 3 occasions, & then in 2016 finally raised the trophy when they defeated the Melbourne Storm.
In this year's competition the team made some big changes, welcoming new coach Craig Fitzgibbon to the club. Joining alongside Fitzgibbon were a number of new signings in the form of Nicho Hynes, Dale Finucane, Aiden Tolman, Matt Ikuvalu, Lachlan Miller & Jayden Burrell. The new coach & squad would go on to finish second after the regular season but ultimately be eliminated from the finals after successive losses to the North Queensland Cowboys & South Sydney Rabbitohs.
REBEL BREAK AWAY
During the 1990's the club endured a period of poor form & financial woes. So when a war broke out between the Super League, backed by Rupert Murdoch & News Corporation, & the Australian Rugby League (ARL), backed by Kerry Packer & Optus Vision, the club saw an opportunity to relieve some of the pressure
In 1995 Cronulla were one of the first teams to join the Super League. However, the competition wouldn't officially begin until 1997, following protracted legal battles.
The Super League aimed to make rugby league a more national focused competition, after previous rugby league competitions had been focused primarily on NSW & Queensland. As such the Sharks were joined in the competition by the Adelaide Rams, Auckland Warriors, Brisbane Broncos, Canberra Raiders, Canterbury Bulldogs, Hunter Mariners, North Queensland Cowboys, Penrith Panthers & Perth Reds.
During the first, & only, Super League season the Sharks would reach the grand final - where they lost to the Brisbane Broncos.
After only one season the Super League would merge with the newly formed governing body, the National Rugby League (NRL). This would see the Sharks return as one of 14 clubs in the new competition.
FINANCIAL STRUGGLES & CONTROVERSIES
Throughout their existence it hasn't been smooth sailing for the Sharks, having faced financial difficulties & becoming embroiled in controversy.
In 2013 the Sharks faced one the bleakest periods in their history when they were engulfed in the so-called "supplements saga." During this time members of the club's staff, coaches & 5 players were accused of orchestrating a regime that involved the administration of two growth hormone-releasing peptides which were banned under the World Anti-Doping Code.
On December 17, 2013 after over 9 months of investigations the NRL handed down a raft of punishments.
Then head coach Shane Flanagan was banned for 12 months. Trainer Trent Elkin was deregistered & given an indefinite ban. While the club itself was fined $1,000,000, with $400,000 suspended if the club could satisfy several governance conditions.
In the proceeding months a number of players were issued show cause notices & offered 12-month bans backdating to November 21, 2013 if they admitted to taking illegal substances during the 2011 season. The following players were subsequently banned; Paul Gallen, Nathan Gardner, Wade Graham, Anthony Tupou, Jeremy Smith, Luke Douglas, AlbertKelly, Kade Snowden, Matthew Wright, ColinBest, Paul Aiton, Ben Pomeroy, John Williams, & Stuart Flanagan.
Despite all of this the Sharks have a long history of producing phenomenal rugby league talent. Over the years Shark Park has been called home by legendary players such as; Tommy Bishop, Greg Pierce, Steve Rogers, Gavin Miller & Andrew Ettinghausen.
Some other notable Sharks names include; David Peachey, Mat Rogers, Brett Kimmorley, Valentine Holmes, Michael Ennis, Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Preston Campbell, Ben Barba, Wade Graham, & Nicho Hynes.
In the caching ranks the Sharks can boast Norm Provan, Arthur Beetson, John Lang, Stuart Raper, Ricky Stuart & Craig Fitzgibbon among their ranks.
Of the field the Sharks have a notable fanbase as well with the likes of Scott Morrison, Cathy Freeman, Glen McGrath, Lara Bingle, Stuart Clark, Peter Costello, Elle Macpherson, Shannon Noll, & Mark Occhilupo all raising their "spirit fingers" at Shark Park.