The Club's Story

The Club's Story

Based on "A brief history of Cronulla Water Polo Club" written by John Watkins.

Foundations of the Club (1963 - 1967)

The seed for what has become one of Australia's most successful water polo clubs was sown by the merging of teams from Gymea Bay and Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club, who in 1963 entered a team in the Third Division of the Sydney Metropolitan Competition. The St George Leader reported: "Frank Jordan was to convene a meeting at Cronulla Surf Club for the purpose of starting a water polo club in the area." The intention was to enable local players to become eligible for selection in New South Wales, Australian, and Olympic teams.

Frank, who represented Australia at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, attracted an eclectic group of people to that meeting and the club was then formed in 1964 as the St George and Sutherland Shire Amateur Water Polo Club. One of the people who responded to the Leader's report was Bill Jones, who along with Kevin Jones, Bob Boufler, Gary Chapmen, John Crisp, Bill Eadie, Doug Lyons and Col Williams, composed the club's inaugural First Grade team. In Second Grade was a young Bruce Falson (one of Australia's most successful Coaches), and in Third Grade the ever younger Geoff Sara who went on to represent Cronulla for 43 consecutive years.

Not Just A Boys Club (1968 - 1969)

The first Ladies team was entered into the competition in 1968-69 and won the club's first premiership that year. The team was coached by Peter Kerr, and comprised of Adrienne Turnbull, Julie Girdler, Virginia Turnbull, Meredith Lancer, Vicki White, Ruth Hardingham, Marilyn Mitchell, Jenny Dunn, Carolyn Keats and Carole Missingham. This was the start of a small run of 5 premierships in 7 years for the Ladies.

Birth of the Cronulla Sharks (1970)

In July 1970, the club changed its name to the Cronulla-Sutherland Water Polo Club (CSWPC), following an invitation by Cronulla-Sutherland Leagues Club to become an affiliate of The Sharks. As recorded in the club's 1983-84 Annual Report: "Our senior men's team had some terrible thrashings in those early years and a 20-0 loss against Universities or Balmain was to be expected. Our strength was in junior players coming through." Nurturing our juniors, striving to learn, grow and change, sharing a passion for the game and celebrating a sense of community has formed the platform upon which our success has been built.

We must also recognise the important role played by the local high schools competitive programs, coaches and administrators, who were dedicated to the sport's development and growth. In the 1960s and 1970s, Cronulla High School led the way through the early platform established by Doug Lyons, a First Grade player and science teacher at Cronulla High. Doug helped set the standard and promoted the perception that "The game of Water Polo is the best thing since sliced bread!"

The Start of Something Big (1971 - 1975)

The Sutherland Shire Junior Water Polo Association (SSJWPA) became the nursery for future development. At that time, the entire club's training programs and games (including those of the SSJWPA competitions and School programs), were conducted at 'Gunnas' (Gunnamatta Bay Baths), affectionately known to club stalwarts as 'The Home of Water Polo'. Our first Men's premierships were in 1970-71, when 3rd and 4th Grades won the NSW Competition. 2nd Grade opened their account in 1971-72 and 1st Grade in 1975-76 after competing in 3 consecutive Grand Finals. This begun a string of success across both Men's and Women's competitions. 

The Glory Years (1976 - 1999)

The late 1970s saw the club grow from strength to strength, emphasising the passion and commitment of our community to support our players to offer them the best learning and development pathways possible. 1976 also saw Cronulla represented in it's first Olympic games, with Andrew Kerr and Randall Goff playing for Australia in Montreal. This lay the foundation for what was a wildly successful 80s and 90s. On the Men's side, Cronulla won 10 Australian Club Championships / National League titles between 1980 and 1999, including a record 4 in a row in the years of 1994 to 1997. On the Ladies side, Cronulla claimed their first Australian club championship in 1993 and also won multiple NSW championships. The 80s and 90s also saw the club extend their Olympic representation in Moscow, LA, Seoul and Barcelona, with a total of 10 Olympians calling Cronulla home during that time.

Ladies Resurgance (2000 - 2012)

Who can forget the Sydney Olympics of 2000 - The first time Women's Water Polo was competed in at The Games, and a huge weight on the shoulders of the Men's team coming off the back of failed qualification in 1996. Incredible success for Australia was to result, with the Ladies claiming a fabulous Gold medal by defeating the USA 4-3 in a timeless Olympic final. That game saw Cronulla's first and (so far) only Olympic Gold Medallist, Simone Hankin, mount the top dias to the tune of Advance Australia Fair. Our ladies backed up that performance with two more succesful Olympic campaigns, claiming back-to-back Bronze medals in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. These two campains were coached by Cronulla's very own Olympian Greg McFadden, who represented Australia in Barcelona and has played over 500 games for our club.

Back on the home front, the Cronulla Ladies program triumphed in claiming multiple Australian National League Titles in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2012, with teams led by our Aussie Stingers: Alicia McCormack, Mia & Jenna Santoromito, Mel & Bec Rippon, Nicola Zagame and Holly Lincoln-Smith. These teams were also supported by a strong wave of young talent coming through the Junior Academy, which also saw major successes through the early 2000s. 

On the Men's side, there were some significant challenges at the top end during these years, which triggered the start of a major rebuilding phase for the club.

Changing of the Guard (2013 & Beyond)

In January of 2009, a friendly international match was hosted by CSWPC at Sutherland between the Australian Men's Team and Turkish National Champions, Galatasaray S.K.. The Turks were, in fact, coached by the now current Australian Women's Head Coach, Predrag Mihailovic. Off the back of relationships built during this tour, Predrag subsequently moved to Australia, joining CSWPC as Men's Head Coach in 2011, initiating his reform of the program.

The early years of the 2010s provided further challenges to both Ladies and Men's Program, however we were lucky enough to welcome an influx of international National League players, notably from Serbia, USA and Japan. Results were mixed and wins slow to arrive, but the Ladies claimed a National League Bronze medal in 2016, the Men following suit the year later with back-to-back Bronzes in 2017 & 2018. 

These years were also well known for the revival of Gunnamatta as Cronulla's historical home pool. After passing some initial hurdles, Gunnamatta became approved (once again) for compeitition play by both Water Polo NSW and Water Polo Australia. It was not uncommon to see a crowd of fans cheering on the Sharks during 4 or 5 Grade games on a Saturday afternoon, followed by another 8 or 9 Junior games on Sunday. The atmosphere our Sharkies create there is unmatched by any other pool in Australia, and has become a true fortress for Cronulla.

Like many other clubs and sports, 2020 saw Cronulla limp through the COVID pandemic with cancelled competition and restrictions, however emerging from it with a new and improved focus for it's future. A future centred around its values of Integrity, Excellence, and Belonging. Let's see where the future will take us.

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