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Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon shrugs off finals pressure


State of Origin star Dale Finucane is one of a handful of big names who packed their bags for The Shire in the off-season. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
State of Origin star Dale Finucane is one of a handful of big names who packed their bags for The Shire in the off-season. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

New head coach Craig Fitzgibbon insists there is no internal pressure on the Sharks to make the NRL finals this year despite splashing cash on big name recruits in the off-season.

The Sharks sacked their coach mid-season in 2021 and had to contend without stars such as Wade Graham, Shaun Johnson and Jesse Ramien for significant portions of the year but only missed the finals on points differential.

With new recruits Nicho Hynes, Dale Finucane, Cameron McInnes and Matt Ikuvalu all on the books for 2022, and a highly rated assistant coach taking the reins, the Sharks look a strong chance to break back into the finals.

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But Fitzgibbon says there’ll be no internal pressure to take his side into September in his first season in charge.

“The expectation (to make finals), that will not be in control of us here at the club, that’s external,” Fitzgibbon told SEN.

“We’ve got our own expectations.

“(External expectation) will always be there. There won’t be a team or a coach in the NRL that doesn’t have pressure and expectation.

“I’ll let everyone else talk about that and make sure I focus on what we want to be.”

Craig Fitzgibbon was a long-term assistant to Roosters coach Trent Robinson before he took the head coaching job at the Sharks. Picture: Justin Lloyd
Craig Fitzgibbon was a long-term assistant to Roosters coach Trent Robinson before he took the head coaching job at the Sharks. Picture: Justin Lloyd

Fitzgibbon said it was a higher priority to restore a winning culture at the club and clue into his playing group’s strengths.

“The Sharks were underpinned in 2016 when they won the premiership by grit and determination,” he said.

“I also want to make sure that the talents and skills that we do have flourish.

“Where that lands us at this stage, I’m not sure. We still haven’t played a game yet. We haven’t had a trial. I’m really excited to find out.

“I’m really excited by what I’ve seen so far.”

Fitzgibbon said his new recruits hadn’t become caught up in the off-season hype, either.

“There’s a lot that’s been said about those guys but they’re just the ultimate professionals,” he said.

Nicho Hynes could make or break the Sharks’ season. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Images
Nicho Hynes could make or break the Sharks’ season. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Images

Hynes looks set to start the season in the halves, having impressed as an understudy for Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes in his last season at the Storm.

One of Matt Moylan, Braydon Trindall and Luke Metcalf is likely fill the other spot in the halves, but Fitzgibbon said nothing had been set in stone just yet.

“We’ll get through the trial matches and see where we land,” he said.

“I’ll want to see them play first before we nut out a combination.

“I’ve got a plan in my mind.”

The Sharks will face the Canberra Raiders for their first match of the season. The Green Machine won’t have Jordan Rapana on deck for the game – Rapana was hit with a two-match suspension for a shoulder charge in the All Stars match.

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