"If everyone is playing well, then I've got some real issues" ... Shane Flanagan. Photo: Getty Images
MICHAEL GORDON will be the No.1 goalkicker for Cronulla next year - but whether he wears the No.1 jersey is yet to be decided.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has revealed Todd Carney will be relieved of the goalkicking duties to allow the NSW pivot to focus on recovering from an Achilles injury.
With five quality recruits, including former Panthers Gordon and Luke Lewis, Canterbury three-quarter Jonathan Wright, plus Tigers pair Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington - there will be plenty of competition for spots. None will be more hotly contested than the fullback role, with Gordon and Nathan Gardner to fight it out with fringe candidate Matthew Wright and potentially even Ryan.
''I'm really interested to see how it plays out,'' Flanagan said. ''Obviously Michael is a class player, he's played Origin, and I bought him to play fullback. Nathan's had two years up and down, last season he missed a whole year due to a knee injury.
''It's all in front of Nathan, he's got a big challenge there. If Nathan does come up to our expectations then Michael can play on the wing and in the centres as well. I think Nathan's position is fullback but they've got a fight on their hands, which is good for us. I've got some ideas in my head but there's nothing concrete there. Nathan's got an equal opportunity, same with Michael.''
Gardner is one of the NRL's genuine speedsters, finishing fourth in the Gatorade Bolt 100 metre footrace in 2010. Having recovered from injury setbacks, he will be keen to cement a spot before his contract expires at the end of next year. Likewise, Gordon has had a luckless run with injuries, which have robbed him of the opportunity to add to his one appearance for the Blues in 2010.
Flanagan expects Carney to be available for the season opener, but won't burden him with goalkicking duties. ''Michael Gordon will have the first crack at that because Todd won't do too much practice in the pre-season,'' he said. ''We want Todd to get back, get his speed back and play some good football. We won't put too much pressure on him with the goalkicking.''
The addition of Heighington to the pack will allow Flanagan to rotate him and Paul Gallen through the lock spot. It will also allow the NSW skipper to spend time at prop and, possibly on the bench as well. ''Hopefully Gal might get a bit of a spell next year,'' he said. ''If everyone is playing well, then I've got some real issues, which is a good problem to have.''
Asked how Gallen, a fierce competitor who normally plays the entire 80 minutes, would respond to the news, Flanagan said: '''Gal' has matured 1000 per cent over the last couple of years. He understands the direction we're heading, and he realises he might need a spell. He's more team-orientated now and understands what we're trying to build.''
The majority of the Cronulla team will begin its pre-season campaign on Monday.