A couple of years ago South Sydney tasted Premiership glory for the first time in 43 years beating the Canterbury Bulldogs to claim the NRL Grand Final. It was a feel good story for Rugby League breaking a long drought.
On Sunday Cronulla fans will be hoping an even longer drought is finished as the Sharks compete in the 2016 Grand Final, their first in a unified competition since 1978 and if they are to be victorious, the first in the club’s 50 year history.
My first memory of football is watching the Sharks play with my Cronulla supporting uncle. I became fanatical, my favourite present ever to this day being my Sharks jersey with a number 4 on the back to celebrate my fourth birthday. I still have the jersey today.
I didn’t realise at the time how tough the journey as a Cronulla supporter would be and while it has been near 30 years of waiting, others have endured the pain since the start.
This shot at glory makes the rough ride worth the pain.
The club has come under fire many times in its history and has been the star of many empty trophy cabinet jokes as the drought continues.
At times it looked like the club may never make it to their first Premiership as they struggled on and off the field particularly in 2014 when they faced their biggest test, in the face of a drug scandal that saw players from their 2011 squad handed back dated suspensions, as well as coach Shane Flanagan forced to sit out for 12 months.
They were dark days for the club who had already been in financial troubles for a number of years and now faced legal action from past players, as well as the loss of sponsorship for the club highlighted by a cleanskin jersey front where no sponsor wanted to be.
Long-time captain Paul Gallen stated this week at the time, he couldn’t even care about football with the strain placed on him and his side due to the findings.
It looked a long way back. As a fan, I too wondered whether it were possible for the club to survive. The media stirred up talk of moving the Sharks out of the shire and the Sharks 2014 season ended with a wooden spoon. It was hard to find positives.
But somehow, turnaround they did. Off the field, things were happening to boost the club. A long term plan for building development helped to fill the Shark’s bank account and the success in the front office flowed on to the field.
Helped by the return of Shane Flanagan to the helm and the chance to start afresh sparked the Sharks in 2015 with the club bouncing back to make the Finals, disposing handsomely of the Rabbitohs in the first week before being dumped unceremoniously by the Cowboys the week after.
The positives were there, however, and the Shark’s fans began to dream again. Signing James Maloney from the Rooster’s boosted their hopes but a sluggish start to the 2016 season kept those following the side weary.
Then it clicked.
A fifteen match winning streak smashed the club’s previous best run and catapulted the Shark’s to the top of the table. Excitement was in the air in the Shire again. Did we dare dream of that glorious win? The mid-season purchasing of Grand Final tickets showed the hopes we held too.
And while a poor end to the regular season created angst, an impressive win over the Canberra Raider’s in the nation’s capital re-ignited the team and the fans. Sweet revenge on the Cowboys a fortnight later catapulted the Sharks in to the Grand Final, and sent a 37,000 strong crowd at the Qualifying Final in to raptures.
Now one game off and the hype is hard to keep a lid on. It has been a lifetime of waiting for so many die hard Cronulla supporters, who can sense that the time is now.
Time leading up to the game is nerve racking and the encounter itself will be hard. While I and other supporters can be proud of where the team has gone this season, one more win will have the Shire bouncing for months.
“How many Premierships have you won?” is the constant question a Cronulla fan faces when debating football.
Hopefully after this Sunday, the answer will finally be one.
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