Sharks have one eye firmly on future

Sharks juniors Scott Sorensen, Chad Townsend and Jayden Brailey are one game away from an NRL grand final with Cronulla. Picture: Chris Lane
Sharks juniors Scott Sorensen, Chad Townsend and Jayden Brailey are one game away from an NRL grand final with Cronulla. Picture: Chris Lane

Are Cronulla on the verge of becoming the NRL's next dynasty?

This weekend shapes as a bumper one for the Sharks as they attempt to stake a claim at being the most dominant club in rugby league.

Not only will their NRL side take on fierce rivals Melbourne for a spot in the grand final but their under-20s will meet Penrith in the Jersey Flegg final and feeder club Newtown are into the NSW Cup decider.

The club's strength in all three grades is testament to their depth and the talent coming through their ranks - all of which can be traced to head coach Shane Flanagan's overhaul of their development systems back in 2015.

The Sharks' decision to invest time, money and resources in the club's academy system is beginning to show green shoots.

Rugby league got a taste of the Sharks' generation next in last month's win over Newcastle when Flanagan blooded his son Kyle, who is being groomed as the club's long-term halfback.

The likes of Blayke Brailey, Bronson Xerri, Billy Magoulias and Briton Nikora are not far off being ready for first-grade and the club boasts one of the league's most impressive list of youngsters.

"I do get a kick out of it. We put a lot of time and effort into it. Our SG Ball and (Harold) Matthews Cup were successful as well," Flanagan told AAP.

"It just shows that if you put time and effort and resources into it, you'll get results."

Three years ago Flanagan overhauled the club's elite academy and junior representative system and pumped time and effort into encouraging participation in the Shire.

His high-performance staff oversee the training programs of the club's junior representative players, giving them a taste of what it takes to be an NRL footballer from as young as 14.

Flanagan flew to the UK in 2016 and toured English Premier League clubs to look at their academy systems, giving him ideas which he's since implemented.

The dream is to have four or five local juniors in their top grade squad at all times.

"We wanted to make sure we could produce our own," Flanagan told AAP.

"People say that back in the day of ET (Andrew Ettingshausen) we had a lot of local juniors and we had a bit of a flat spot there in between them. We probably did.

"The programs and systems probably fell away for a time there but they're back in place and we're seeing the benefits."

Australian Associated Press