Talking with Chad Townsend on sharing the leadership load

A local junior with the Yarrawarrah Tigers and a debutant for the Sharks back in 2011, Chad Townsend is Cronulla through and through.

The early stages of his career at the Sharks suffered its ups and downs with only 19 first grade appearances between 2011 and 2013. He played the 2013 season in Cronulla's second tier team leading them to a 38-6 Grand Final victory, before being named in the competition's team of the year.

In search of greater opportunity and the chance to prove himself in the NRL, Townsend would sign with the New Zealand Warriors where he would be the first choice five-eighth alongside the livewire halfback Shaun Johnson.

By 2016, Townsend would return home to Cronulla with a wealth of experience under his belt, ready to steer the Sharks to their first ever premiership victory.

With the subsequent exits of several senior players since that point, the onus of leadership has now fallen upon the shoulders of Townsend.

"I've always seen myself as a bit of a leader within our squad," he told the Talking with TK podcast.

"I guess it's because I wear the seven on my back and I'm a true reflection of the type of game plan, the type of training we do and what the coach wants us to do on the field.

"But now... we've lost 'Gal' (Paul Gallen), the Sharks' greatest player of all time and our captain for however many years - it leaves a hole in our leadership.

"It gives Wade (Graham) a chance to step up, and he's always been ready and willing to take that leadership role from 'Gal'.

With more clubs moving away from a solitary captain and towards a co-captain structure, Townsend is aware of the way leadership in the NRL is evolving.

"Leadership relies on a group... and obviously Wade is at the top, but in that second tier of leadership at the Sharks is myself, Andrew Fifita, Shaun Johnson and Aaron Woods.

"And it's our job to support Wade, help Wade, give him ideas - be like a sounding board for things that him and John Morris might want to talk about.

"[We are responsible for] setting the culture, setting the standards for what is expected of a Sharks player at training, away from training, on the field and away from the field.

He remains adamant that coach John Morris is underappreciated by the NRL fraternity at large, with his succession of premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan coming under a cloud of ASADA doping breaches.

"I don't think John Morris got the accolades he deserved in his first year of coaching," said Townsend.

"We faced a lot of adversity in 2019 - we had topline players missing through injury and for John Morris to still be able to steer our team into the finals... for a rookie coach, I think that's an extremely good job."

"I've enjoyed my time under John Morris and that was one of the main reasons why I wanted to stay and why I extended my contract at the club."

If one thing is for certain, it is that Townsend has been one of the few constants at a club that has experienced incredible success as well as damning criticism.

His leadership and skills in maintaining stability both on and off the field have been vital in ensuring the Sharks remain a consistent finals force each year.