“They just don’t care about their bodies. They play for the team. Their whole mentality is team first, then me. Cam’s out of teeth, I mean honestly…”
Rudolf described Fitzgibbon’s priorities as a “no motherfucker policy” on radio last year. But it’s a term Cronulla types are loath to give airtime given what it implies, unfairly they say, about those who left the club last year.
The descriptor of a Sydney Swans recruitment analysis almost 20 years ago now has often been misinterpreted anyway.
The Swans’ secret wasn’t entirely to blacklist anyone prone to asshole behavior – because again, human nature, even among the best of us – but to align it with a strong culture. and player-focused.
McInnes was signed by Fitzgibbon’s predecessor Morris, a key figure in the rise of so many current Cronulla cultures, and saw elements of that the moment he walked through the door.
“It’s a very talented group, without ego,” he says. “It doesn’t compare it to any other club I’ve been to. But there are big personalities here who put the team first.
“That’s what creates success, people sacrifice things for the team. It wasn’t a shock to find out when I got here, plus it’s really nice to find out.
Big names – like Rudolf, winger Ronaldo Mulitalo and veteran prop Andrew Fifita – are thriving as rarely before under Fitzgibbon.
Captain Wade Graham’s influence is also significant after concussions ended his 2021 campaign early and kept him in Sydney when Cronulla entered the NRL’s Queensland bubble last year.
While Hynes leads the team and his own credentials for World Cup honors Dally M and Kangaroos from the scrimmage, the addition of Finucane and McInnes has cemented Graham’s influence on a talented and developing pack.
That’s why Finucane signed in the first place, thanks to a three-pronged recruitment strategy that included coach, half-back and close Rabbitohs friend/rival Damien Cook.
“I went and sat with Craig in his room at one of the Origin camps last year,” Finucane said after salary cap pressure played a key role in his move from Melbourne.
“We talked about his vision for the club, what he saw happen, the culture he wanted to create and the way he wanted the team to play.
“All of this really appealed to me. At the same time, I was also talking to Nicho because he had already signed while I was still in talks with the Sharks. He was always on the phone with me, asking me ‘where is that?’ ‘What do you think?’
“He was always in my ear, just like Damien Cook. He was at camp and being such good friends with him, Cookie was flattering Fitzy at the same time because he wanted me back in the Shire.
“There were a few guys trying to make it happen and I’m so happy it turned out that way because I really enjoyed this year.”
Big contract renewals last year for Shaun Johnson, Josh Dugan, Aaron Woods, Matt Moylan and Fifita meant Fitzgibbon and football manager Darren Mooney had more than $3 million in salary cap space to work with.
Tellingly, the bank was not broken when recruiting their main men. The likes of Rudolf, Will Kennedy, Connor Tracey, Braydon Trindall and Teig Wilton, among others, have been re-signed as one of Cronulla’s top 30 teams in years has been built.
But Hynes and Finucane were pursued vigorously nonetheless. Every time one of the five rivals talking to Hynes raised their offer, the Sharks went over the top.
Several phone conversations had convinced Fitzgibbon that Hynes – described by his coach as “instrumental” in last week’s loss to the Cowboys – was cut from a similar cloth. The couple’s 90-minute drive from the Shire to Hynes’ family home on the Central Coast confirmed that.
A fourth season was offered without hesitation to Finucane, 31, when other clubs balked at going beyond their three-year deals.
His contract is unique and will earn him just over $300,000 in 2025, with the bulk of his estimated $2.5 million deal being paid over the next three years.
Finucane’s thinking throughout negotiations was also perfectly Fitzgibbon-esque, when COVID-19 travel restrictions limited face-to-face meetings and ruled out club visits.
“Seeing the facilities and that sort of thing, that wasn’t really part of my thinking,” he says.
“A weight room is a weight room, whether modern or old. A field is a field. I was never going to sign somewhere based on facilities or a center of excellence.
“It would always be about my role in the team, the culture and the club, and that’s what I saw at the Sharks.
“Fitzy and everyone else involved has only made this environment better ever since.”
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