Craig Fitzgibbon will opt for a clean-out of his star players ahead of a rebuild of Cronulla’s roster, according to Phil Gould.

Rugby league guru Phil Gould expects Craig Fitzgibbon to clear out a raft of senior players on big money deals and get to work spending a war chest of over $3 million to rebuild the Sharks.

Speaking to James Bracey on Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast as the Sharks’ coaching change was playing out yesterday afternoon, Gould said he had spoken to Cronulla CEO Dino Mezzatesta about the club’s ambition to attract and develop talent. He added that the Sharks were keen to implement a model that borrowed from the Roosters and the Panthers, two current NRL powerhouses.

Gould said that part of the puzzle at the Sharks was already in place, with a successful junior representative program that was starting to develop talented kids and bringing them through the ranks into first grade.

Craig Fitzgibbon as part of the NSW coaching staff.

However, he added that the next major piece was attracting the right talent from other clubs and pointed out that the Sharks may have doubts about John Morris’ ability to do that, which may have ultimately sealed his fate.

“They’ve got some senior players who are all on very big money who are coming off contract at the end of the year,” Gould said.

“Whether or not they keep those players, it could give them a lot of money to spend going forward.

“Part of that would be having a coach who could attract outside talent as well. As to whether or not they thought John Morris could do that – it might be one of the reasons why they’re making the change.”

The Sharks’ list of off-contract players is loaded with representative stars. Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan, Shaun Johnson and Aaron Woods are all yet to sign deals for next season and beyond, with their current salaries sucking up more than $3 million-a-season.

Sharks player Josh Dugan.

Add Andrew Fifita, who is stuck in reserve grade on a deal worth roughly $800,000-a-season (expiring at the end of next season) and that tally is closer to $4 million, although Fifita’s salary will be difficult to take off the books.

“There’s a number of senior players who have been there for a number of years now with varying degrees of performance levels. And it would be hard to imagine all if any are renewed going forward. Their form for the rest of the season I suppose dictates that,” Gould said.

“There are a lot of clubs out there looking for players. We’ve got a long tail to this competition and a lot of clubs are looking for experienced talent if they haven’t got a lot of kids coming through their system to step into the top grade and some of them will want to improve rapidly and get out of the cellar, so some of those Cronulla players could be seen as a chance to improve their roster.”

Should Fitzgibbon take a clean slate approach and decide against re-signing any of his big name off-contract players, it would all of a sudden make the Sharks the heaviest hitter in the player market over the next 12 months.

Adam Reynolds’ future is one of the hottest talking points in the game and according to Wide World of Sports’ The Mole, the Sharks have firmed into favouritism to sign him should he walk away from the Rabbitohs.

Rabbitohs captain Adam Reynolds.

Fitzgibbon’s history with the Roosters could all of a sudden make Sam Walker’s upcoming contract negotiations interesting, although it’s unlikely he would disrespect his old employers with such a brazen raid, even in the unlikely event that Walker was willing to entertain a club switch.

Angus Crichton, the Morris brothers and Daniel Tupou are the Roosters’ other off-contract players who could interest Cronulla’s new coach, while Brisbane’s Tom Dearden and Anthony Milford, the Bulldogs’ Dylan Napa, Gold Coast’s Tyrone Peachey and Ashley Taylor, Parramatta’s Nathan Brown, the Panther’s Tyrone May and Kurt Capewell and the Rabbitohs’ Jaydn Su’A are all quality players who are currently on the open market.

Other star players will no doubt be made available when clubs hit problems with their salary cap, so it will be fascinating to watch how Fitzgibbon and the Sharks approach the market in the coming months.

But they’ll also need to make good decisions about the best young players already in their system, with Gould saying both Fitzgibbon and Panthers assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo, who is also in talks with the Sharks, had strong backgrounds to navigate that side of things.

“They’re coming from winning situations, winning cultures, cultures that are development based, the Roosters, even though they’ve got no junior league are still development based and the Panthers obviously are very much development based,” Gould said.

“And the Cronulla Sharks want to be the same.”

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