Cronulla Sharks shoot down 'disrespectful' claims about 'soft' run to top of NRL ladder

Craig Fitzgibbon's side are flying high after a 5-1 start - but is it a false dawn?

Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon was understandably cautious when contacted late last year shortly after the 2024 NRL draw was released. The Sharks boss might be relatively new to the coaching caper but has still been around long enough to know commenting on the draw is a drive down no-win alley.

It especially applicable when you're in charge at Cronulla, a club routinely accused of being handed soft draws, making the finals and then going MIA at the business end of the season. "All I will say is I think it's too early to suggest anything due to the quality of teams that missed the 8 last year. They are big clubs with stable rosters," a cagey Fitzgibbon told Yahoo Sport Australia in November. "Things could shift either way once the season is up and running."

Nicho Hynes and the Cronulla Sharks.
Nicho Hynes and the Cronulla Sharks are flying high atop the NRL ladder. Image: Getty

Cronulla is on top of the table after a 5-1 start to the year, and predictably, some critics have questioned their credentials based on who they've played. That's despite beating two of last year's finalists – the Warriors (in New Zealand) and Canberra – overcoming a South Sydney side that many tipped to win the premiership and thrashing the Cowboys, who held down fourth spot leading into Sunday's game.


The Sharks' other win was against a much-improved Canterbury. As another NRL coach said: "A soft draw in the NRL doesn't make sense, it’s getting tighter every year. It's disrespectful to say any game is soft."

Cronulla's run over the next five weeks can be considered anything but soft. They play Canberra (Away), Dragons (Home), Storm (A), Roosters (H) and premiers Penrith (H).

Cronulla Sharks players during their win over the Cowboys.
Cronulla thrashed the Cowboys to go top of the NRL ladder.

Phil Gould reckons Cronulla's true credentials yet to be tested

Phil Gould, who has been a notable Cronulla sceptic in recent years, believes that stretch could prove the making of Fitzgibbon's side. Gus said: "A couple years in a row they made the eight without beating a top eight side.

"They bowed out in the finals each year. The next step is to be beating challengers, the top teams. Now's a good time to be doing it. They're in good form and they’ve got to really test themselves.

"If you’re a Sharks fan, you can be very optimistic about 2024 judging by what we've seen (against the Cowboys). It's been a real committed team effort, high quality on both sides of the ball – attack and defence. They’re a little bit like (their) coach used to be. He was relentless."