Chaos at Cronulla: What now for a 'stunned' Sharks playing group & John Morris?

The John Morris tenure at the Cronulla Sharks has been brought to an end by the NRL club's signing of Craig Fitzgibbon as head coach from 2022.

Cronulla issued a statement on Tuesday night confirming Morris will no longer coach the team, effective immediately, with assistant Josh Hannay to take over on an interim basis for the rest of the season.

Fitzgibbon, who currently holds an assistant coach role at the Sydney Roosters, has agreed to a three-year deal reportedly worth between $1.5 million and $1.8 million.

It comes as a cruel blow to Morris just five weeks into the 2021 season, having lead the Sharks to finals in both of his campaigns at the helm under trying circumstances.

So where does this leave Morris and the Sharks now? With the saga far from over, no doubt there'll be ramifications from the club's handling of the decision.

Potential ramifications for the Sharks this season

Morris had spent the last two years galvanizing the Sharks and, having far from lost Cronulla's dressing room, his apparent ruthless axing could hit the team's morale hard as they see out the season without the man who brought them through a tumultuous period.

Cronulla is ambitious to become a consistent title contender, prompting them to look beyond Morris for a coach they believe can deliver that - the highly thought of Fitzgibbon.

The early decision gives Cronulla, the coaches and players clarity moving forward as the club looks to build their roster for 2022.

But on the other hand, Morris remains popular with the playing group and his treatment has left many of them stunned.

Halfback Shaun Johnson told Fox League he was "disappointed" by the speculation, while captain Wade Graham also backed Morris to take Cronulla to the next level on Tuesday.

The Sharks were on a day off and were told of his removal via text message and now have to front the Newcastle Knights without him on Friday night.

They started their season with two wins and three losses, with the latter largely competitive efforts against heavyweight teams the Canberra Raiders, Parramatta Eels and Sydney Roosters. Without Morris the risk is the club could drift through the remainder of the year.

Potential ramifications for Morris as a coach

The short-term future of Morris is under a cloud for now, but his coaching career is far from over.

Morris has done commendable work in his first two years as a head coach, having taken the club to back-to-back finals despite inheriting a salary cap mess.

The Sharks had $353,000 stripped from their salary cap when Morris took over from Shane Flanagan at short notice at the start of the 2019 season, with the rookie coach then having limited control over his roster. In that time

Morris helped rebuild the club and blooded 11 debutants, with Fitzgibbon to be left with a strong stock of local talent when he arrives in Woolooware.

Morris would be a welcome addition to other NRL clubs with his resume, whether that be as an assistant or at the helm as the coaching carousel turns.

The short term opportunities for a main role appear limited, with strugglers the Dogs, Cowboys and Broncos all in the infancy of their rebuilds with new coaches. Only the Sea Eagles - despite handing Des Hasler a new deal, and the Tigers, a former club of Morris, loom as potential opportunities for a deserved second crack.

It may be a case of a step backwards to move forward for Morris despite what he was able to achieve under difficult circumstances.

Potential ramifications for Cronulla as a destination

The apparent callous treatment of Morris, at least to those outside the club, has the potential to hinder Cronulla as a destination of choice.

Loyalty is often bandied around in sport, and there wasn't much shown from the club's powerbrokers.

It's concerning with 14 Sharks due to come off contract at the end of the season, and with some on big coin it could ignite a roster reshuffle.

They could follow Morris out the door, although Graham denied there were any plans of a mass exodus from the playing group when speaking to the media on Tuesday.

Cronulla have more than $3 million to spend on retaining or recruiting players for 2022, with the restrictions on their salary cap easing for next season.

So even with the Sharks' messy handling of the coaching future, the club has plenty of appeal as it enters a new era, however the pressure will be on Fitzgibbon to get results straight away given the clear expectations laid out by the Cronulla board for future success.