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‘hard to get a read on a free-spirited duo’


Craig Fitzgibbon has returned to the future with his halves and Cronulla’s “free” duo are reaping the rewards after not being locked into one side of the pitch.

Offseason rookie Nicho Hynes and five-eighth Matt Moylan nominated teams in the defensive line, but when the Sharks have the ball, they alternate between first and second receiver while swinging everywhere to keep opponents guessing.

Many students of the game like Andrew and Matthew Johns have been asking teams for years to reject the modern system of allocating one half to each edge and Fitzgibbon effectively did so in his first season as head coach.

Hynes and Moylan were instrumental in 20 of the team’s 23 tries in the first five rounds heading into Saturday night’s showdown with Melbourne at AAMI Park.

Without a late Raiders try in the first round, Fitzgibbon’s Sharks would be unbeaten and the catalyst for their start to the season was his playmakers combining with their outside backs.

“They are free-spirited players. They’re not locked into any particular position there, they’re free to roam and move around wherever they are anyway, so trying to lock them down isn’t going to work anyway,” Fitzgibbon said, in smiling, Friday during his captain’s race press conference.

Matt Moylan (Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

“I think it complements their style – they’re managing players, so we want them to run around and move around and try to play in all the different areas of the pitch, and not be so hard to read.”

In the first round in Canberra they scored their first try with a pet play over a scrum then a right when Hynes and Moylan combined to put full-back Will Kennedy over and then a left when Moylan provided to Hynes to send back rower Teig Wilton away.

The following week, in their final win over Parramatta, they went left, right, left and left with their four tries with Hynes combining with Kennedy on either side of the pitch for the first two before Moylan tied with his left half to put Connor Tracey at you. Moylan then laid down the match winner for Wilton at the last minute before Hynes added the crucial conversion.

Cronulla staged a clinic in the Wollongong wet in Round 3, using intricate sweeping plays down either side of the court, scoring three on the right and the other three on the left to bamboozle the Dragons.

After 300-man Aiden Tolman crashed out for the first try of the fourth round against Newcastle, halves went to the next three in the 18-0 shutout.

The second try was an example of the pre-season preparations Fitzgibbon drilled into his team.

From the left edge, Moylan sends the ball to Hynes, who finds Kennedy, who mixes it into center Jesse Ramien to feed a leaping Sione Katoa and the winger scores in the corner.

It sounds simple but this try is a beauty of rugby league in that the game gives the appearance of simplicity but it is quite complicated.

As the move unfolds, 12 of the 13 Sharks are using decoys or involved in the game.

Left winger Ronaldo Mulitalo sprints onto the pitch to provide an extra option and even if unused it’s one more moving body rushing towards the Newcastle defence.

“We have invested heavily in everything. We trained very hard in all areas,” Fitzgibbon said when asked about their attack, trying not to say too much.

“It’s the role of the playmakers to get you into position and execute a plan, but everyone has roles and responsibilities in a team. We have strived to ensure that everyone executes their role individually , then put them together to make a team performance.

“We’ve had periods of that, I think, where you can clearly see it when it’s running full blast. It’s very difficult, depending on the circumstances, the position on the pitch, there are a number of elements that come into play.

“I think confidence comes from performance. They come every day to ask me where they need to improve. They’re not comfortable, not all of us are, with where we are as a team.

Cronulla eliminated the Knights by attacking on the left when Newcastle right winger Dominic Young was in the trash with a cut pass from Hynes to Mulitalo which allowed center Siosifa Talakai to score. They followed the same path soon after, although Young had returned, but this time it was Moylan providing Talakai, who broke a tackle and kicked into the field for Kennedy.

When the poor old Wests Tigers ventured out to Shark Park just about everyone thought they were hiding for nothing and just about everyone was right as the home side ran in six tries.

The notes on these trials tell you everything you need to know about the unpredictability of Cronulla’s attack.

1. Hynes bomb on the left edge, Britain’s Nikora scores.
2. Moylan on the right edge, feeding Ramien to Katoa.
3. Moylan to Hynes right, cut to Ramien, who hands Katoa again.
4. Moylan to Hynes on the left, on Kennedy, then Talakai who could have scored but gave it to Mulitalo.
5. Hynes to second right receiver, on Kennedy, then Ramien.
6. Moylan to Hynes right, puts Cameron McInnes through a holeshot, Kennedy backs up.

Most of those tries looked like a team running a practice drill against the reserves who had been told not to bully the senior squad.

That won’t be the case Saturday night when the Sharks face off against the Storm.

Craig Bellamy’s side have the third-best defense in the NRL, conceding 74 points so far, behind Cronulla (56) and Penrith (66), although they have the worst ineffective tackling rate at 21.6 per match and be ranked sixth in the Junk Ranking. for missed tackles at 30.5.

Melbourne suffered a rare home defeat three weeks ago to Parramatta and Fitzgibbon said he took a deep look into that game to glean some clues on how to beat the Storm.

He also had the luxury of Hynes and Dale Finucane giving him inside information after their many collective years under Bellamy. Not that he expects anything different from what the Tempest always serves up invaders from the north.

Craig Fitzgibbon

Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

“I think that’s Melbourne’s strength – you kind of know they’re going to play their way and be super competitive in all areas,” Fitzgibbon said.

Although Bellamy was impressed with Cronulla’s consistency, he was unhappy with his own side’s spotty form – the extra-time loss to the Eels followed by important wins over Canterbury and Canberra.

“We were really good in most parts of the game, but we were inconsistent in other parts,” he told reporters on Friday during his pre-match press conference. “Probably when we had the upper hand, we took the foot out of the throat.

“We have to stick with what we’ve been doing instead of looking for other ways to do things, so that’s what we’re focusing on right now.

“There are still improvements in us, but it has to come from individuals.”




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