Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis of the Sharks with the NRL trophy.
Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis of the Sharks with the NRL trophy. CRAIG GOLDING

'I don't even have the Sharkies in my top eight'

NOT only will Cronulla fail in its historic attempt for back-to-back titles, it'll miss the top eight altogether in 2017, according to NRL legend Nathan Hindmarsh.

Since lifting the club's first ever premiership trophy, the Sharks have endured a tumultuous summer, with Ben Barba eventually leaving the club for French rugby to avoid a mandatory 12-week suspension hanging over him for a positive test to cocaine.

That blow doubled the casualties from Cronulla's premiership-winning spine, with Mick Ennis retiring on a high after winning last year's grand final.

The Sharks have reasonable coverage for Barba but are still to find a concrete solution in the No.9 jersey.

That's just one of the reasons Hindmarsh is forecasting a dramatic slide for the reigning premiers.

"It's always going to be hard and for starters everyone's going to be trying to chase you down," Hindmarsh told Fox Sports show Bill and Boz on Tuesday night.

"You're the defending champions, you've got the target on your back, other sides are trying to take your game plan for how you won the year before, your side doesn't always stay together - Mick Ennis, gone, that's one of the big things, and Benny Barba of course - so it's going to be very hard for the Sharkies.

"For me, I don't even have the Sharkies in my top eight this year."

If Hindmarsh's dire prediction comes true it will be the first time in more than a decade a grand final winner playing for competition points will miss the top eight.

The Storm did not take part in the finals in 2010 but would have comfortably made the eight had they been playing for competition points instead of serving a punishment for rorting the salary cap.

Prior to that it was the Wests Tigers' fairytale premiership in 2005 that was soured by a drop way down to 11th in 2006.

That result seemed to be setting a bizarre trend following Canterbury's sharp drop off from premiers in 2004 to 12th in 2005.

The champions have found it easier to ride the challenges of a title defence since, with Brisbane, the Storm (twice), Manly (twice), the Dragons, Roosters, Rabbitohs and Cowboys all backing up grand final wins with finals appearances the following year.

If the Sharks have their issues, from a reshuffled spine to an ageing roster, there's also some resurgent powers who look poised to barge their way back into the top eight, potentially stealing their spot.

"I'm expecting big things for the Roosters," Hindmarsh said.

"Ignore the Nines, but they had big injuries last season, the Mitchell Pearce (Australia Day scandal and subsequent suspension), they started winning games towards the end of last year and started competing, so I see massive improvement with the Roosters.

" ... The Eels as well, with their disruptions they had last year. They had no Corey Norman for the last eight rounds and only just missed the top eight, so I expect them to do a lot better.

" ... I'm scared to say Warriors, but who they've got there with (Roger) Tuivasa-Sheck, (Shaun) Johnson. They're a frustrating side but if they can get it right under a new coach I think they can really shake it up."

News Corp Australia

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