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Cronulla Sharks ready to let Shaun Johnson off the leash

John Morris has promised to unleash star recruit Shaun Johnson as he looks to inject some razzle-dazzle into a Cronulla side renowned for its toughness and defensive grit.

The 38-year-old rookie coach has taken on one of the toughest jobs in the NRL after he was handed the reigns following Shane Flanagan's deregistration.

While questions remains about his ability to maintain the standard of success which the club enjoyed for much of Flanagan's tenure, Morris is not harbouring any fears and promises an entertaining brand of football from his side.

He says not only should the Sharks be aspiring to finish top four, he wants them to chance their arm and play with their eyes up.

And most of that centres around Johnson, who was signed following Valentine Holmes' decision to pursue an NFL career.

The Sharks have two of the game's best offloaders in their pack in Andrew Fifita and Aaron Woods, and he says to expect Johnson and fullback Matt Moylan to be seen sniffing around the ruck.

As well, Johnson will be given licence to play on both sides of the field and pop up wherever he thinks there is an opportunity.

"There's a defensive structure we line up at. But you can't pigeonhole Shaun Johnson, he's going to go anywhere and I want him to float across the field," Morris told AAP.

"Shaun played predominantly on the right for the Warriors where Chad (Townsend) played for us. It doesn't mean they can't go either side. They're both capable of it.

"That's one thing I've got to keep developing as a coach, keeping that mindset not to pigeonhole guys into one set position, being able to adapt and play in different parts of the field."

The Sharks have been stung in the off-season by controversies surrounding Flanagan and their salary cap.

Flanagan has been told he is unlikely to be registered to return to the game anytime soon after communicating with club officials in violation of his 2014 ban over the club's peptides scandal.

The club has also been fined $500,000.

The Sharks were also fined $250,000 for salary cap breaches and have had $353,000 shaved off their salary cap for 2019 and 2020.

However they still boast a roster capable of pushing for finals contention.

This year once more shapes as a season of regeneration for the Sharks with Luke Lewis having hung up his boots and Paul Gallen to bow out at the end of the year.

Back-rower and Junior Kiwis representative Briton Nikora is knocking on the door and young gun Bronson Xerri looks set to debut on the wing as early as round one.

Jack Williams, whose debut season was cut short due to a torn pectoral muscle, is set to be groomed as Gallen's successor in the Sharks engine room.

While Blayke Brailey looks set to put pressure on his brother Jayden for the starting hooker spot.

"He's off contract and someone we're going to try real hard to keep," Morris said.

"It's one of the first things I did when I took this position, really try to get that done.

"I have a lot of time for Blayke - his brother as well.

"I can see them sharing that position - clubs have two hookers that share that spot."

SHARKS

Finishes over the past three seasons: 2018 - 4th, 2017 - 5th, 2016 - premiers.

Coach: John Morris

Captains: Paul Gallen and Wade Graham

Key gains: Shaun Johnson (Warriors), Josh Morris (Canterbury).

Key losses: Valentine Holmes (NFL), Luke Lewis (retired), Jesse Ramien (Knights), Edrick Lee (Knights), Ricky Leutele (Toronto Wolfpack), Joseph Paulo (St Helens).

Best team: 1. Matt Moylan, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Josh Dugan, 4. Josh Morris, 5. Bronson Xerri, 6. Shaun Johnson, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Matt Prior, 11. Kurt Capewell, 12. Wade Graham, 13. Paul Gallen. Bench: 14. Aaron Woods, 15. Blayke Brailey, 16. Scott Sorensen, 17. Ava Seumanufagai.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 06: Shaun Johnson poses during a Cronulla Sharks NRL media opportunity at Sharks Leagues Club on December 06, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Shaun Johnson. Source: Getty


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