How slick Sharks are avoiding salary cap trap and keeping all their stars

Will Kennedy became the latest Cronulla player to sign a contract extension on Friday.

Nicho Hynes, Craig Fitzgibbon and Will Kennedy, pictured here at the Cronulla Sharks.
Nicho Hynes, Craig Fitzgibbon and Will Kennedy have all extended their stays at the Cronulla Sharks. Image: Getty

Cronulla Sharks media man Rob Willis has a simple action plan when it comes to speculation around player negotiations. "I tell them not to tell me anything until the deal's done and they're ready to announce it," he tells Yahoo Sport Australia. "That way when blokes like you ring wanting to know who we're signing or re-signing, I can put my hand on my heart and say I honestly don't know."

Even if he was in the know, Willis wouldn't have had to tell many 'pork pies' this season. He's just had to pull up his press release template, insert the player's name and length of contract extension and send it out to the masses.

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Will Kennedy's decision to stick with the black, white and blue for another two years takes the list of high-profile retentions this year to seven. The fullback joins Sione Katoa, Ronaldo Mulitano, Nicho Hynes, Siosifa Talakai, Braydon Trindall and Jesse Ramien in re-committing to the Sharks until at least halfway through this decade, while late last year hooker Blayke Brailey pledged his loyalty until the end of 2026.

Hynes has gone a step further, signing on until the end of 2029, on the richest deal in the club's history. And coach Craig Fitzgibbon won't be going anywhere until at least 2028 after extending his stay beyond his original deal.

Every single player has spoken genuinely about his love for the club, the coach, the area, the fans and the future plans after signing on the dotted line. In this day an age of transit lounge footballers – here one minute, gone the next – it’s an extraordinary achievement to keep your back five, the reigning Dally M medallist, two key spine members and an in-demand coach.

Not one of the men mentioned seriously tested their value on the open market, presumably keeping their managers on a short leash in the process. The fact the majority are staying for less than they could have demanded elsewhere speaks volumes for not only what's happening at the Shire club, but its sound salary cap and roster management.

Will Kennedy, pictured here in action for the Cronulla Sharks.
Will Kennedy is the latest Cronulla Sharks star to re-sign. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Cronulla's simple recipe for player negotiations

Fitzgibbon and general manager of football Darren Mooney handle senior retention and recruitment with Glenn Brailey in charge of the juniors. Fitzgibbon and Mooney don't want any credit or publicity for keeping the band together and insist their negotiating skills are no smoother or greater than others in their position.

Those with knowledge of their workings say the two are more Murtaugh than Riggs, ditching the hard sell and letting their vision for the club speak for itself. There is no listening to an online Anthony Robbins seminar before opening up their Spirax notepads.

Negotiations are done in the nearest vacant office, not some fancy restaurant or the corner table at the leagues club Chinese. No pressure or deadlines are exerted. Players are encouraged to talk to those closest to them and explore all options before arriving at a decision.

Chairman Steve Mace and CEO Dino Mezzatesta get involved at the pointy end of negotiations, once the player has decided he's staying put. Rarely – if at all – are there leaks before the contract is signed, sealed and delivered.

It's the sort of professionalism and calm self-assuredness not always evident with some of the carpet strollers masquerading as Cronulla officials over the past 56 years. If winning starts at the front office – as legendary coach Jack Gibson was fond of saying – the Sharks are well on their way to some more silverware.

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