If the Cronulla Sharks were to fail to make the finals in the 2017 NRL Telstra Premiership, after taking the crown last season, it would not be the first time a champion has experienced a steep drop following a banner year.
It happens in every code and with almost predictable frequency. All one need do is examine the NFL, where the Super Bowl 50 Champs, the Denver Broncos, were out of playoff contention before the end of the regular season, despite having more or less the same squad and having attempted to plug some of the obvious gaps.
The Sharks could easily suffer the same fate, in the opinion of NRL legend Nathan Hindmarsh. The ominous signs are rather obvious. The Sharks have had a kerfuffle of an off-season, losing Ben Barba to France, his escape clause to avoid a 12-week NRL suspension for a positive cocaine test.
The retirement of Mick Ennis, who decided to call time on a high note, further weakened the Sharks’ spine.
Hindmarsh also raised the obvious issue of every other side gunning for premiers in the season following a championship, but simply because the issue is obvious does not negate its reality.
Rugby has generally been immune to the dire fate of previous winners. If the Sharks do fail to make the top eight, it would represent the first time for that outcome in a decade.