NRL under fire over pre-season format after Cronulla robbed of $100,000

The Sharks had two wins from two games and the best for-and-against, but the prize went to the Sea Eagles instead.

Cronulla and Manly, pictured here during the NRL's pre-season challenge.
Cronulla missed out on the NRL's $100,000 pre-season prize after it went to Manly instead. Image: Getty/AAP

Cronulla Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon has admitted he didn't even know about the scoring system in the NRL pre-season challenge until it was too late for his side to do anything about it. The Sharks proved the most dominant team in the two-week mini-tournament, beating Newcastle 28-16 and the Bulldogs 36-16 to finish with the best for-and-against.

However they finished second on the ladder behind Manly and missed out on the $100,000 prize because of their lack of offloads. Cronulla, Manly and St Helens all enjoyed two wins from two games, but it was the Sea Eagles who finished on top due to the number of bonus points they accrued through offloads.

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Manly and Cronulla claimed bonus points in their victories for scoring at least five tries and breaking the line five or more times. But it was the Sea Eagles' offload count that got them the $100,000 cheque, finishing on 29 points compared to 28 for Cronulla.

Manly produced 10 offloads against South Sydney last week to earn the crucial extra bonus point. Cronulla needed to do likewise against the Bulldogs on Sunday to draw level with Manly and go top of the ladder on for-and-against, but only threw three in their big win.

Speaking after the win on Sunday, Fitzgibbon admitted he didn't initially know how crucial offloads were in the pre-season challenge. "I was only aware of it too late. I said 'go for it', but it's really hard," he said. "It can change a mentality if you go and chase it. There's a bigger picture at play here."

Fitzgibbon said he felt it was more important to get his side prepared for the regular season than chase the $100,000 on offer in the pre-season. The coach said he is fine with the concept of a pre-season tournament and wanted to make clear he was not bagging organisers, but admitted he was unsure if offload counts should equate to bonus points.

"The thought behind it is great, because you want to see footy played," he said. "But how is an offload more entertaining than a normal pass? I'm not sure.

"If you looked at a metric of winning, do offloads win games? So why are we awarding it as a win? I don't get it. It's exciting to watch, but it's not what's going to happen in the rounds. So why is that the deciding metric?"

Craig Fitzgibbon, pictured here before a Cronulla Sharks game in 2022.
Craig Fitzgibbon looks on before a Cronulla Sharks game in 2022. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

NRL's pre-season challenge falls flat

Cronulla captain Dale Finucane also admitted he wasn't aware of the scoring system, while Manly coach Anthony Seibold said he hadn't told his players to build up their offload count against the Sydney Roosters on Friday night. Had he done so, the Sea Eagles could have locked up the $100,000 before the Sharks even played.

The concept also fell flat amongst fans, with one writing on social media: "I’ve got to be honest…the $100K you tipped in did not change one thing.

"If the coaches had an eye on it and weren’t completely focused on getting their teams prepared for the season, the Sharks would’ve won it. You even had a match played under different rules. Waste of $$."

Another commented: "The scoring system here was a joke. Rewarding offloads…so teams had to make a choice. Make all these offloads for the sake of preseason points, or play their own system as they train. Ridiculous move by the NRL to even make a 2 round thing a comp."

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