CRONULLA Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has done a great job so far with his "unloved and unwanted" Cronulla Sharks NRL side.
A remarkable 75 per cent of the Sharks' top squad of 24* are rejects and cast-offs from other clubs: players whose previous clubs either released them from their contracts, didn't want to renew their contracts or refused to make serious bids to keep them.
Yet, Flanagan and Sharks officials, right now, wouldn't want it any other way, such is the high-quality football the squad, as a whole, has exhibited to move the side into the NRL top four.
From personality prop forward Bryce Gibbs (ex-Tigers) at the front to fullback Matt Wright (ex-Penrith) at the back, the Sharks are choc-full of performers that other clubs were happy enough to release over the past few years. Four have played with the Sharks previously.
Keeping them in sync is Sharks and NSW captain Paul Gallen, the Wentworthville junior, then 17, who willingly went to the Sharks 12 years ago and played lower grades before making his mark in Cronulla's first grade side.
Gallen, vice-captain of Australia, is playing arguably his best football ever.
Despite their "unloved" tag at other clubs, Flanagan and club football manager Darren Mooney have done particularly well, both in taking chances and recognising the players' abilities.
They missed out on a few other players, too, in the past few years but have still managed to assemble a force to be reckoned with for the premiership this year, after five straight wins.
"We've tried to bring players in we believe will gel with other players, on and off the field," Flanagan said. "We want a strong group of guys who can work together. That was always important."
* The 25th member of the Sharks top squad, Albert Kelly,
was released by the Sharks from his contract.
Loved by the Sharks
¦ Todd Carney: the former Dally M winner and Test player was sacked by the Roosters last year. Played for Country v City and is a probable NSW Origin rep.
¦ Bryce Gibbs: told to look for a new club last year despite being contracted to the Tigers. Just played for City v Country.
¦ Andrew Fifita: released by Wests Tigers to the Sharks for this year on, as part of a package deal with Gibbs. Played for the Indigenous All Stars team.
¦ Jeff Robson: unwanted past last year at Parramatta.
¦ Isaac De Gois: former Shark, released by Newcastle Knights last year.
¦ Jon Green: former Sharks lower grader who played for the Dragons for four seasons until last year.
¦ Sam Tagataese: Released mid year by North Queensland
to the Sharks last season.
¦ Mark Taufua: unwanted by new Newcastle coach Wayne Benentt after last season.
¦ Ben Ross: former Shark who returned after his serious neck injury and a full season at Souths to lead the Sharks front row.
¦ Wade Graham: With Penrith for three years until 2011 and a City squad representative.
¦ Jeremy Smith: Kiwi international unwanted by Wayne Bennett
at Dragons after 2010. Just played for New Zealand again.
¦ Colin Best: Sharks junior who came back from Souths after 2010. In career-best form.
¦ John Williams: Parramatta junior overcame serious injury
and played for North Queensland until 2010.
¦ Josh Cordoba: With Parramatta until 2010.
¦ Nathan Gardner: Outstanding Parramatta junior in 2009,
now recovering from a serious knee operation.
¦ John Morris: Released by the Wests Tigers in 2009.
¦ Matt Wright: Penrith junior and Oz Junior Kangaroo in 2008.
¦ Ben Pomeroy: Penrith first grader in 2005. A City Origin
rep three years ago.