The Sharks made an official call on their coach for 2022, and the NRL 360 panel did not see eye-to-eye over it.
In fact, co-hosts Ben Ikin and Paul Kent clashed over the matter, with Ikin flat out telling Kent, “Don’t twist my words.”
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After 48 hours of speculation, Cronulla confirmed Roosters assistant Craig Fitzgibbon on a three-year deal starting in 2022.
They also dropped the bombshell news that John Morris had left his role as head coach effective immediately.
The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Crawley called out the club for their “inexperience” and “lack of class” in their handling of the situation.
Morris — the lowest paid head coach in the NRL — had requested a contract extension several times only to be knocked back.
He had taken the Sharks to the finals in 2019 and 2020, despite being hamstrung by salary cap and roster issues he inherited — but the club deemed that he hadn’t done enough.
“Craig Ftizgibbon has all the credentials to be a very good rugby league coach but what Cronulla have done here has shown their inexperience, their lack of class,” Crawley told NRL 360 on Tuesday.
“The problems that John Morris has had to contend with in the past few years. He’s been working $350,000 under the cap, he’s been dealing with a player roster which, let’s face it is very difficult to deal with, some of those players are not easy work.
“He’s got them to the finals, you can talk about his win percentage record, a lot of coaches don’t have a better one.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad signing for Cronulla … they’ve done the wrong thing by this guy. I don’t care what you say, it completely lacks class.
“It’s not about him being a good bloke, how’s he been proven to be a bad coach?”
However, The Australian’s Brent Read argued that Fitzgibbon simply is a better option.
He referenced how under Morris, the Sharks have only gotten a win over any of “big six clubs” (Storm, Rabbitohs, Roosters, Eels, Panthers and Raiders) just four times since he took over as coach in 2019.
“If you put John Morris and Craig Fitzgibbon in front of 16 CEO’s tomorrow and said, ‘Take your pick’, how many would take John Morris? None,” Read said.
“So if you’ve got the opportunity to get Craig Fitzgibbon, then you get Craig Fitzgibbon.”
Ikin interjected to point out that Morris had done a fine job with the restraints he’s had, and that Fitzgibbon is going to walk into a much easier position.
Morris has had to work with a salary cap that is heavily invested in several players that have either been underperforming or have struggled with injury.
However, he has developed and debuted the likes of Blayke Brailey, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Toby Rudolf and Will Kennedy.
There are 15 players coming off contract at the end of this season, four of those are big earners. It means Fitzgibbon will have money to spend and the freedom to make decisions on the playing roster, which is something Ikin says Morris deserved a chance to play with.
“Shane Flanagan took over in 2011 and won a premiership in 2016 so John Morris has done pretty well to finish in finals both years,” Ikin said.
“Let’s not deny it that the squad that Craig Fitzgibbon is going to inherit is full of quality players that John Morris coached as youngsters and brought into the system and has them ready now to grow again.”
Read argued: “They’re about to cut a swath through the roster.”
“The roster Craig Fitzgibbon inherits will not be this roster, the roster will be decimated.”
Ikin responded: “Which is what John Morris wants a crack at, the $4 million so he can go to market.”
At this point, Kent cut in: “You can’t argue both ways.”
Ikin quickly hit back: “Don’t twist my words … I’ll say it exactly how it is. The young players he brought through are not the players he inherited. I’m talking about the young players that he’s brought through.”
Crawley added: “He’s got the roster and an opportunity to now to move forward with his own roster and also young guys he’s brought into his system and at that point you throw him out.”