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NRL's 'embarrassing' problem, Cronulla's early statement: Good, bad, ugly of round 1

The Sharks produced the best performance of the NRL's opening round, while the Titans have plenty of work to do.

😃 The good: Cronulla's early statement after finals flops

😔 The bad: Des Hasler and the Gold Coast Titans

😡 The ugly: NRL getting too much like soccer?

Craig Fitzgibbon and the Cronulla Sharks

Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon loves surfing almost as much as he does NRL. The Sharks boss spent countless hours sitting on a board during the off-season, pondering where the club sat as he awaited the next set of waves.

On paper, most would give Fitzy's first two years at the helm a pass mark. Two seasons for two finals appearances is not a bad return in anyone's language.

But Cronulla's inability to get it right in September - three losses in three finals games – ate away at Fitzgibbon. He is the first to acknowledge the Sharks need to do better in the play-offs but also realised it's not as bad as it's been made out to be.

Sharks players, pictured here after their NRL win over the Warriors.
Sharks players celebrate after their gritty NRL win over the Warriors. (Hannah Peters via Getty Images)

The design faults were largely between the ears. Speaking after his team's gritty come-from-behind victory over the Warriors on Friday night, Fitzgibbon said: "That's what we're capable of when we earn the right. We didn’t have many opportunities and when we did, we had to make them count.

"The last time I was sitting here (in a press conference) was after a loss (to the Roosters) in a semi and everyone was so excited to write about the Sharks losing a semi by a field goal. But I said at the time that we're growing up, we're starting to learn the game and starting to think our way through it."

It's always dangerous to make assumptions after sampling just one round of football, but the Sharks already look a different, more hard-nosed, side than last year. Their win was arguably the most impressive of the weekend given the circumstances – down 12-0 with no ball and playing a top four-rated team in front of a hostile home crowd.

Cronulla's defence – something which fell away badly last season – was ruthless and intense. It was arguably the performance of the weekend, although, to be fair, it requires a developed print to separate it from an excellent Storm win against the premiers and Canberra's gutsy win over the Knights.

Des Hasler has plenty of work to do on the Gold Coast

It’s been 605 days since Des Hasler last won an NRL game. And judging from the garbage dished up by the Gold Coast Titans in the second half against the Dragons on Saturday night, the wait for that breakthrough victory could stretch well into the season.

Down 6-4 at the break, Hasler's men capitulated badly in the last 40 minutes. The Saints were good but Gold Coast aided and abetted them, failing to fire a single shot.

It was the worst performance of the round until the insipid Dolphins phoned it in against the Cowboys. Yes, the Titans were missing players but that's still no excuse. Just look at what the Storm produced minus Cameron Munster and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.

Des Hasler, pictured here speaking to his Gold Coast Titans players.
Des Hasler speaks to his Gold Coast Titans players after their loss to the Dragons. Image: Fox League

The Titans showed none of the resilience and willingness to fight that have been the hallmark of Hasler-coached teams down the years, meekly surrendering to a team which finished near the basement last year. That would have hurt the proud old coach deeply.

"Welcome to GC Titans, Des, where once good players come to get lost…maybe coaches now too?" tweeted one unimpressed supporter.

That the Titans performed so poorly in front of home fans is another major concern given the solid in-roads the AFL is making in that part of the world. The Suns or Titans? Which one would you rather watch based on round one results?

NRL players continually lying down to win penalties

For years football (or soccer, if you prefer) fans have had scorn directed the way of their code over the feigning of injury to win free kicks, penalties and yellow and red cards. Of the many memes that do the rounds on the subject, players in the rugby codes are portrayed as going out of their way to hide injuries while footballers apparently throw themselves to the ground as if hit by a poison dart at the slightest hint of contact.

But maybe it's time for round ballers to return the favour and start questioning the antics of NRL players. Rugby league is one of the toughest sports in the world yet we're seeing players stay down and hold their heads as if belted by an Israel Adesanya roundhouse, hoping the video ref will intervene and find a penalty.

One player on the weekend rubbed his chin so hard and for so long after a little clip it's a wonder it didn’t drop off. Announcing a crackdown on players faking injury, NRL's head of football Graham Annesley said a few years ago: "It's not what our game should be about. (The NRL) is not like a number of other codes around the world where we have serious issues with players playing for penalties ... some of it is almost hilarious the way it happens."

League fans aren’t laughing. It's embarrassing.

Check back in every Monday throughout the NRL season for Adam Lucius' 'Good, Bad and Ugly' column.

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