Ennis admits playmaker Shaun Johnson will be a big loss, but in coach Craig Fitzgibbon and star recruits Nicho Hynes, Dale Finucane and Cameron McInnes, brought to the club on deals worth a combined $6.3 million, he believes the Sharks can rediscover their DNA.
“Shaun Johnson contributed a lot as a ballplayer there is no doubt about that,” Ennis told Foxsports.com.au
“But in terms of the overall squad, I think the inclusions of Cameron McInnes, Dale Finucane and Nicho Hynes are enormous for them.
“Knowing Dale and the way that he prepares for a game and all the reports about the way Nicho has settled in and also Cameron and his training ethics they are guys that make a huge contribution throughout the whole preparation as well as in the game.
“I think their squad looks nicely balanced in 2022.”
But with the signings come questions that must be answered. Can Hynes step up to lead a team for an entire season and become the dominant playmaker and how does Fitzgibbon fit Finucane and McInnes — both lock forwards — into his side.
WHAT POSITION SHOULD HYNES PLAY?
The Sharks are adamant that Nicho Hynes was brought to the club to play in the halves, but with Braydon Trindall, Matt Moylan and Luke Metcalf also at the club it is unclear what number will be on his back.
However Michael Ennis believes regardless of which number he wears, Hynes will be the chief playmaker given his exploits for the Storm last season.
“Given the form we saw William Kennedy in last year and everything we have heard, Nicho has been brought there to play in the halves,” Ennis said.
“That’s where he played his junior football and I think he did a pretty sound job when he was given that opportunity at Melbourne at different times when he had to fill in those positions.
“But I think it is the unknown. We haven’t seen him play a lot there. It is a vital position and it is one that without Johnson there in terms of that creativity, the Sharks definitely need him to fire.
“Given what we saw last year and the amount of try contributions that he had at Melbourne, he certainly brings plenty of attacking prowess to the Sharks’ line-up.
“It will be interesting to see the balance and who Craig Fitzgibbon partners alongside him whether it is Braydon Trindall or Matt Moylan.
“That will be interesting to see who lines up for them in their spine positions in Round 1.”
HOW TO FIT FINUCANE AND MCINNES IN THE TEAM?
The Sharks recruited two tireless workhorses in Dale Finucane and Cameron McInnes, but the problem is they both play the same position.
Blayke Brailey is seen as the club’s long-term No.9 with McInnes signed to play No.13 last year, but the arrival of fellow lock Finucane has made it hard to fit all three in the starting 13.
Ennis believes the new rules in recent seasons gives Fitzgibbon the flexibility to chop and change his combinations where his two star forward recruits are concerned.
“With Cameron the game has gone down that path a little bit with the smaller lock forward at times compared to a couple of years ago where you had guys like Gallen and those bigger bodies in that No.13 position,” Ennis said.
“Now it has sort of transformed a little bit where you have guys like Cameron Murray and Victor Radley and Nathan Brown at Parramatta that are such vital links between the halves.
“It will be interesting to see how they use McInnes there. He was really effective for the Dragons when he played there.”
However Ennis wouldn’t rule out McInnes spending time at dummyhalf or even coming on off the bench after the brutal exchanges in the opening 20 minutes.
“I still think he is a real quality dummyhalf as well, but you’ve got young Blayke Brailey there who is a good dummyhalf too,” Ennis said.
“But the one thing you get with McInnes and Finucane in your line-up is ferocious competitors with wonderful work ethics.
“They are guys that just contribute so much on and off the field that you can definitely find a spot for both of them somewhere in the team.
“Fitzy could push Finucane up to the front row and use McInnes at No.13. He could also bring McInnes off the bench after those early exchanges.
“He is a small middle forward so to be able to take him out of the early brutality and let guys like Finucane and Toby Rudolf punch out that first 10 to 20 minutes.
Then you could bring on McInnes to have a real impact in that roving small forward role with his footwork and his play-the-ball speed that would be beneficial as well.
“They are good problems for Craig Fitzgibbon to have and he would be wrapped to have both of them in his squad.”
WHAT WILL FITZGIBBON BRING TO THE SHARKS?
The Sharks clearly were not happy with where the side was heading under former coach John Morris, which is why they made the brutal decision to cut him and replace him with Fitzgibbon.
Ennis believes the Sharks have gone away from their defensive roots in recent seasons and thinks Fitzgibbon and returning defence coach Steve Price can help them rediscover their DNA.
“Given what we have seen Fitzy do at the Roosters he has had an exceptional period there under Trent Robinson,” Ennis said.
“Fitzy looked after the defence there so you would imagine that will be his priority. Knowing that the Roosters have put a lot of focus and built a lot of their game plan on their expectations of their defensive system, that no doubt that will be their focus.
“Cronulla over the last couple of seasons have been a side that have changed their mindset a little bit.
“In my time there the defensive side of things was something that was really drummed into us by Steve Price who ironically has come back to work with Fitzy.
“He did a tremendous job with our side for the two years I was there defensively. He comes back to the club and Fitzy being a former defensive coach you would imagine the Sharks change that mindset a little bit.”
Ennis believes the Sharks’ attack has come along in leaps and bounds over the last few seasons, but it has come at the expense of their defensive game.
“They might go from that team that have tried to outscore sides and from an outsider looking in it looked attack-minded a little bit more than defence at times,” Ennis said.
“That will be a huge move in the right direction if they can get that real gritty defensive mindset back into the team because they certainly have some points in them.
“And I like what I have seen from Braydon Trindall in the early stages of his career. Brailey out of dummyhalf I think is a real threat. I think if Fitzgibbon can encourage him to run the footy and be active more. Getting him in the game and being a real focal point of their attack it will really unlock some of their forwards that have got so much to give.”
ALL EYES ON SHARKS LEGENDS
The Sharks will be hoping two club greats in skipper Wade Graham and prop Andrew Fifita can get back to their best in 2022 to finish their careers on their own terms.
Both are entering the last year of their deals and while Fifita is tipped to retire or move to the UK, Ennis believes Graham has plenty of footy left in him for the Sharks.
“Wade has had a tough run unfortunately with some concussions, but on his day and when he is fit and healthy he is one of the best back-rowers in the competition,” Ennis said.
“He is one of the best players that I played alongside. He is so versatile and tough and uncompromising and a back-rower with great skill and it is hard to find.
“I would absolutely be giving Wade every opportunity to extend his stay there providing he stays healthy.
“Talking to him he is really optimistic and excited about the season ahead. If he gets back healthy and he is playing his best there is no doubt he will have a huge contribution for Cronulla.
“It was really hard to see Andrew suffer that injury.
“From all reports he has recovered well from that and hopefully the big fella can have a great year because when he is at his best and fully fit he is a unique forward that brings something that not many others bring.