Unsigned at the end of the year, Morris has got the best out of a side that has dealt with injuries to key players and has fielded nearly a dozen rookies.
The 40-year-old coach was given a huge rap by one superstar playmaker, with Shaun Johnson – who led the league in try assists in 2020 – telling the Herald in recent weeks: “I genuinely believe I don’t play the footy I did last season without ‘Bomber’.”
Prized recruit Cameron McInnes also singled out Morris for special praise after he took up a four-year deal at the club from 2022, admitting “he knows what it is like to be a player and to be at the top level for so long so I am looking forward to working with him”.
Cronulla chief executive Dino Mezzatesta has already gone on record claiming there is no deadline or quota of games Morris needs to win at the start of the year to keep his job. He added Morris “is in the current role and he’s in the box seat [to keep it]”.
Morris has made a point of directing all inquiries about his future to the club’s hierarchy, and didn’t change his tune in light of the speculation involving his predecessor.
“I’m only focused on the year ahead and building on the last two years of playing finals football,” Morris said.
“We’ve had 11 rookies debut during that time, they’ll all be better for the experience they’ve gained, and after the pre-season we’ve had I’ve got no doubts we can play finals football again in 2021.”
Johnson was happy to rap Morris and said: “The one thing I’ve really appreciated since being in Cronulla and at the Sharks is my relationship with ‘Bomber’ [Morris].
“It’s just that personal relationship. He’s a coach who asks how everything else is going off the field before he asks how you’re going on the field.
“He checks in to see if I need anything outside this place. To me, not having any family here, I can’t put into words how that much means to me.
“He’s just a great person and makes it easy for me to walk through these gates and want to perform well for him.
“I know there are a number of boys who would say the exact same thing about him.″
Flanagan took Cronulla to their only premiership victory in 2016.
He served as an assistant at St George Illawarra last season before parting ways with the club once Anthony Griffin came on board.
Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo has also been linked to the job, as has Sydney Roosters deputy Craig Fitzgibbon.
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Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.