'Worst year of my career': Rudolf out to make amends

Cronulla prop Toby Rudolf says he deserved to be axed by coach Craig Fitzgibbon, claiming his form slump “in the worst year” of his career left the Sharks coach with no other option but to hand him a reality check. 

The front-rower turned out for the Sharks’ feeder club Newtown last weekend, missing Cronulla’s loss to the Gold Coast after an underwhelming run at NRL level.

Rudolf was apologetic for a performance against Canterbury a week earlier, claiming he cost the Sharks 14 points in a 15-14 loss which triggered his demotion to NSW Cup. 

The prop has been recalled for Cronulla’s meeting with Wests Tigers on Friday and while speaking at the launch for the Beer, Footy and Food Festival at Newtown’s Henson Park home on July 27, Rudolf said his axing was warranted. 

“He (Fitzgibbon) said where I’ve been in the past and where I'm currently at there is too big a gap,” Rudolf said. 

“I’ve been low on energy and my output (compared to) years gone by has been a lot higher than recent weeks.

“He questioned my off-field habits, luckily with Fitzy he has no hidden agenda, there’s no better coach at that. 

“There were a couple of injuries after the Titans game so I got my spot back, but it was obviously a bit of a stinger.”

Rudolf said he had been left to stew on his performance against the Bulldogs.

“I single handedly lost us the game, honestly,” Rudolf said. 

“The first try me and Braydon Trindall had a muck-up, then Reed Mahoney goes in when I’m at marker, then (I gave up) the penalty goal so it was 14 points related to me.

“That wasn’t the sole reason I got dropped, there were a lot of things leading up to it.”

Rudolf vowed in the pre-season to give up alcohol to correct a troublesome toe injury but said his disappointing 2024 campaign had made him wonder if he had made a mistake. 

“I’ve been off the drink all year… I think the no drinking thing has been a thing where I have got to let a bit of steam off,” Rudolf said. 

“Sometimes it can be a bit monotonous footy and sometimes you need a break from it, I was getting a bit too much in my own head.

“I said before the start of the year that if I had the worst year of my career - and so far it has been - I was just going to get blind halfway through the year, but I wanted to see it through.” 

The Sharks, who sit fourth heading into round 19, have lost their last three and will be without Nicho Hynes for the next eight weeks, but Rudolf says their finals credentials shouldn’t be written off.

“We beat Melbourne and the Roosters without him,” Rudolf said.

“Obviously having a calibre of player like him is something you can’t replace.

“We’re going to do it on the weekend with Nicho in our thoughts.” 

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