Wayne Bennett claim smacked down, concerning trend for Sharks: Good, bad, ugly of NRL Round 18

Crunch time looms for the Sharks after the worrying development at Cronulla.

😃 The good: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves' incredible longevity

😔 The bad: Wayne Bennett's questionable Souths claim

😡 The ugly: Cronulla's worrying slide down the NRL ladder

Manly fans are quick to point out players who leave Brookvale rarely kick on elsewhere. They use the likes of Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough as recent examples of players losing their brilliance and aura once outside the northern beaches.

Those same fans also like to think the Sea Eagles seldom lose players they really want to keep. To be fair, they are fairly close to the mark with both assessments. But there is the odd exception to the rule.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves debuted at Manly in 2009 and played six games that season. He was recruited from rugby by legendary Sea Eagle Noel Cleal, who told his old club they could build a side around the rookie Kiwi.

Seen here, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves with Roosters coach Trent Robinson.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves now holds the record at the Roosters for the most first grade games played at the proud club. Pic: Getty

Although JWH was raw and still growing into his body, Crusher could tell he had the attributes to handle the heat of an NRL front-row. He was tough, uncompromising and a natural born leader.

Cleal was devastated when the young prop was allowed to walk out the door to join the Roosters in 2010. His disappointment has been vindicated by what JWH has since achieved. JWH is now the Roosters' longest-serving player after reaching 307 games in Sunday's big win over St George Illawarra.

It's an amazing stat and a wonderful achievement considering the Chooks are a foundation club and Waerea-Hargreaves operates from the toughest position in the game. "At the start he was wild. He was something different and he played with a lot of emotion and a lot of power and aggression," Roosters coach Trent Robinson said of JWH.


"He's been able to hold onto that while his professionalism has improved and his life off the field has improved. He's a credit to himself and his family."

Is Wayne Bennett taking us all for fools? Does he really want us to believe he had no say in Damien Cook's departure from South Sydney? That a coach with his fingerprints over any roster he oversees didn’t at least have a conversation with Rabbitohs officials about Cook's future?

This is not a fringe first grader we're talking about. Cook sits alongside Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray and Cody Walker as the most influential figures at Souths.

This image shows Souths star Damien Cook in the NRL.
Damien Cook was let go from the final year of his contract at Souths next season after the club appointed Wayne Bennett as coach from 2025. Pic: Getty

He is a former Origin star who is two games away from playing 200 matches for the club and bleeds cardinal red and myrtle green. It would seem incredible if Bennett, who returns to the Bunnies next year, genuinely had no involvement in calling time on Cook, who is off to the Dragons after being let go.

Yet, the master coach insists that's the case. "No, it wasn't me. It was a South Sydney decision," Bennett told News Corp. It (releasing Cook) is not of my doing. With the salary cap, Souths are trying to free up money to get players in certain positions and it's as simple as that." Sorry, Wayne. We're not buying it.

The old saying suggests the tough get going when the going gets tough. We're about to find out just how tough the Cronulla Sharks are. Following a tremendous start to the season, which yielded nine wins from 10 games, Craig Fitzgibbon's side looked a definite top four outfit and a genuine premiership threat.

Pictured here are Cronulla Sharks players including Nicho Hynes.
The Cronulla Sharks are in a worrying NRL form slump after losing their last three games on the trot. Pic: Getty

Previously maligned for an inability to beat quality sides, the Sharks accounted for Melbourne and the Roosters on the road after beating the Warriors across the ditch in Auckland. But Cronulla's season is fast going down the gurgler.

They have won just once in their past six games. And, ironically, their troubles are coming against teams well down the ladder. The Sharks have gone down to the competition's three bottom teams – Wests Tigers, Parramatta and, on Friday night, the Gold Coast Titans.

Competition-winning sides don’t throw away those games. Fitzgibbon faces some tough decisions as he looks to get his side back on track. His spine is simply not clicking and the forwards lack the creativity and punch of the opening two and a half months.

Two big names – Braden Hamlin-Uele and Toby Rudolf – have already been dumped to NSW Cup. Some other high-profile players should join them if the Sharks can’t get over the top of wooden spoon favourites the Tigers on Friday night.