Sharks see some Bellamy in Fitzgibbon

·5-min read

Aiden Tolman and Dale Finucane can already see the similarities between the two Craigs.

One, their former mentor and one of the finest coaches of this generation in Craig Bellamy, and the other being the new upshot at Cronulla in Fitzgibbon.

They see it in the Sharks coach's preparation, his simple game plan and his genuine care for his players.

Everything, except his behaviour in the coaching box.

"It's no secret that Craig Bellamy can be quite vocal in his delivery," Finucane, who spent seven years at Melbourne under Bellamy, told AAP.

"That can be effective ... really effective.

"But at the same time Fitzy's calmer demeanour also probably gets the same result.

"But it's probably more of a you don't want to disappoint him, rather than I don't want to get sprayed."

Fitzgibbon should rightly find himself in the contenders for the Dally M coach of the year.

He has taken the Sharks from outside the finals to inside the top two, with the club claiming their highest finish since 1999.

A win against North Queensland on Saturday night would also return the Sharks to their first preliminary final since the Shane Flanagan-era.

If Fitzgibbon was to scoop up the Dally M in grand final week, he'd join the likes of Tim Sheens, Wayne Bennett and Trent Robinson in winning the award in his rookie year.

He has done it with decisive calls and getting the best out of almost every player in the Sharks line-up.

Handed a long run-in time after taking up the offer from the Sharks last April, Fitzgibbon was calculated in his purchase of Nicho Hynes.

He's also been smart in the men he's put around him, combining his own defensive expertise from years at the Sydney Roosters with the return of Steve Price.

Price now remains as one of the few links between the current team and Cronulla's 2016 title success, having been the defensive coach that year.

The pair have helped Cronulla enter the finals with the best defensive record over the second half of a regular season since Bellamy's Melbourne side in 2008.

And then there is the simplicity in how he delivers his message to his players, which strikes the biggest similarities for Finucane and Tolman.

"Craig (Bellamy)'s been a coach down there for two decades," Finucane said.

"He has adapted with society, just in terms of different generations of players and people.

"But in terms of simplifying roles, that's always been the case talking to Cam (Smith), Billy (Slater) and Cooper (Cronk).

"(Fitzy) is similar.

"There's no rocket science to anything. There's no magic. It's just simplified role.

"Have a high expectation on the KPIs around that. And just do as best you can."

Tolman has seen it too, after debuting under Bellamy in 2008.

"While (Fitzgibbon) is very detailed, the message that we get is very simple," Tolman said.

"The game is a simple game. He's very good at that and he does that on a level that connects with everybody.

"He gives everybody a role. If you fulfil that role, you're going to be in games.

"That's what Craig (Bellamy) did for me down there (in Melbourne).

"And that's what Craig (Fitzgibbon) does here. He knows that there are 17 people in a team but everyone's different.

"Everyone has their own individual touch and individual flair.

"Even in our front-row rotation, we know I'm not the same as Royce Hunt or Braden Uele. We're different body shapes and different body types."

Then there is also the personal side to Fitzgibbon that players have thrived off.

Much has been made of his jiu-jitsu routine and his habit of still getting through a round on away trips and on match-day mornings.

It remains his physical release outside of football, his way to get his mind away from the game.

But there remains another reason.

Fitzgibbon feels far more comfortable entering the dressing room and asking his players to run through walls on match day when he knows he's also put his body through the wringer that same morning.

"The thing about him is he's vulnerable with us," lock Cameron McInnes adds.

"As a player when we're doing video or on the field and make a mistake, it's clear to see obviously, but you've got to own up to it.

"It can be a vulnerable place.

"But he does that as a coach too. When he thinks he doesn't get something right he will let us know.

"It shows he's always trying to improve but he's always looking at himself first.

"As a player you love that because if that's what your leader's doing, you got to do it yourself."

That connection has proved telling.

Hynes, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Royce Hunt, Toby Rudolf and Siosifa Talakai are all having career years while Andrew Fifita, Briton Nikora, Matt Moylan and Tolman all appear reborn under Fitzgibbon.

"That's what he's done really well, he connected everyone," Tolman said.

"Of all the coaches I have had, he is definitely as detailed and knows his footy knowledge as well as anyone.

"But he can communicate that as detailed or as simplified as he needs it to be to make each player tick.

"He can connect with people on different levels.

"Look at Matt Moylan for example. He is playing his best footy now. He's given him some confidence and a role and he's playing some really good footy."