Sydney Roosters assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon has officially signed a three-year deal with the Cronulla Sharks, according to several reports.
The 43-year-old is set to replace John Morris as Cronulla’s head coach at the end of the year — Cameron Ciraldo is expected to be named his assistant coach.
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After days of speculation, Sharks chief executive Dino Mezzatesta reportedly informed Morris he would not have his contract renewed on Tuesday.
According to Fox Sports reporter James Hooper, the deal was approximately worth $1.5 million.
Fitzgibbon has been an assistant coach with the Roosters for eight years, helping the club secure three NRL premierships — he will see out the remainder of the 2021 season at the Roosters.
The Daily Telegraph first reported Morris was a dead man walking after Cronulla’s loss to the Roosters on Saturday, with news progressing that Fitzgibbon would replace him next year.
The decision surprised many rugby league pundits — Morris had guided the Sharks to consecutive finals campaigns in 2019 and 2020.
However, Cronulla’s poor record against the NRL’s powerhouse clubs has been a point of concern — the Sharks have lost their last 11 games against Melbourne, Sydney, Penrith, Parramatta, South Sydney and Canberra.
Speaking on Fox League’s Sunday Night with Matty Johns, Cronulla playmaker Shaun Johnson lamented the decision as “disappointing”.
“He hasn’t had any control over the roster, he’s been in a situation where our cap has been shot the last couple of years and he’s made do with what he’s got,” Johnson said.
“He’s got us all on board, so I genuinely can’t speak highly enough of him.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Sharks captain Wade Graham warned the coaching saga could derail the club’s 2021 campaign.
“The best thing moving forward would be for the club to make a decision either way as quick as possible so we can put it behind us and move on for the rest of the season,” Graham said.
“From a player’s point of view, it’s not ideal. It can become a distraction if we let it. So hopefully there is a resolution as soon as possible.
“Our point of view is the speculation is unfair on the players, on John, on the club and the members and the fans.
“The situation isn’t great and … until a decision is made there is going to be continued speculation.
“We’re all thinking a decision has to be made.
“My job as a senior player is to try and keep the boys as focused as I can and try and focus on the results.”
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Queensland great Ben Ikin was less than impressed with the club’s decision to part ways with Morris.
“I think this has well and truly been over-thought, over-designed by a couple of blokes who haven’t been in the job all that long,” Ikin told NRL 360 on Monday.
“You’ve got a guy here who is seemingly doing a great job being given a tough ask, coming into a club that had a head coach previously suspended, some big personalities, less money than all the other clubs because of the fines.”
“When you’re on a board, there is really only one KPI you want from your head coach, is he advancing your program? And I think everybody was surprised by how well the Sharks have been playing this year which says to me he knows how to coach.
“More than anything, if you’re a player wanting to come to a club, better than the reputation of the head coach, you want to see the club’s aligned from the chairman to the CEO to the head coach. This would be a red flag to me knowing what John Morris has done, how long he’s been in that system, if I’m the head coach coming into that system, I’m worried.”
Fitzgibbon played 19 Test matches for Australia and 11 State of Origin games for New South Wales in a celebrated playing career.