Photo: Getty Images
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has hailed Wade Graham as his next captain and Matt Prior an Origin-player-in-waiting after both re-signed with the NRL premiers.
The Sharks moved a step closer to retaining the bulk of their grand final-winning side with Graham on Friday inking a two-year extension and Prior signing on for another three years.
The retention of the key duo is a big feather in the cap for Flanagan who was tasked with keeping the championship side together.
"It's a credit to the club, they can all probably go and get more money elsewhere but they want to stay," Flanagan said.
Jack Bird and Chad Townsend are the only two big names yet to recommit after the Sharks also locked up Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki earlier this year.
Wade Graham Photo: Getty Images
With skipper Paul Gallen expected to retire at the end of 2017, Graham is all but assured of assuming the leadership next year, according to Flanagan.
"He's been in our leadership group with (Michael) Ennis and Gal for the last couple of years and he's taken the next step this year," Flanagan said.
"With Michael not being here, there's a big gap to fill. It's going to be good for Wade this year to step up.
"He's learnt well what leadership of a club means. Gal's about actions on the field and Wade is about both (actions and words). He can talk well and fill that void that Michael leaves for us."
Prior was a somewhat under-appreciated figure in Cronulla's run to a drought-breaking premiership victory but Flanagan lavished praise on him on Friday.
The NSW Blues are well off for Origin front rower contenders with teammate Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods, David Klemmer, James Tamou, Shannon Boyd, Jake Trbojevic and Jordan McLean in the mix, but Flanagan said Prior was capable of breaking through for a representative debut.
"Matt can play Origin, he's not out of that league," Flanagan said.
"It's another step that Matty wants to make and I think his form over the last six to eight months has been great and he was probably the form front-rower of the end of last year."
Sharks Official Statement
Wade Graham Photo: Getty Images
One is the heir apparent to the current club captain, the other was Player of the Year in 2016 and a major reason the Sharks were able to hoist the NRL trophy in recording a Grand Final victory last year.
In a big boost for the both the current season and for the years to come, key forwards Wade Graham and Matt Prior today signed new contracts with the Cronulla club.
For Graham his new deal sees his contract extended for another two years, through until the end of 2019, while Prior has agreed to a three-year extension.
Graham began his Sharks career in 2011 and has long been labelled as the club captain-in-waiting, with his consistently strong form rewarded last year with a debut appearance in the NSW team for game three of the State of Origin series.
As for Prior, the lanky prop forward came into his own in 2016 with a series of outstanding performances, highlighted by a man of the match effort in the Sharks semi-final victory over the Raiders in Canberra.
At 29 Prior's best football seems to still be in front of him with the new three-year contract potentially seeing him remain with the Sharks for the rest of his career.
Prior has played 60 games for the Sharks, 180 NRL games in total and has won two premiership rings, one with the Sharks and the other with the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2010.
While still just 26 years of age, Graham has already amassed 140 games for the Sharks, 182 in the NRL and is rated amongst the best back rowers in the game.
The pair signed their new contracts today following the Sharks Captains run and will both take their place in the team to play the Eels at ANZ Stadium tomorrow.