CRONULLA’S most successful coach, John Lang, has declared the Sharks as real premiership contenders heading into the business end of the competition.
Lang, whose nine-year stint at the club netted more wins than any other coach, said this year’s side were capable of bringing a premiership to Sutherland Shire for the first time in the club’s history.
‘‘I think they are a premiership chance,’’ Lang said.
‘‘You don’t want to be saying this could be the year but, if they can get anywhere near the top four, then they’ve got to be a big chance.
‘‘There’s no way in the world you can say they can’t win it.’’
During his time at the club, the Sharks went close on countless occasions, including a grand final appearance in 1997 and preliminary finals in 1996, 1999 and 2001.
And Lang said there were plenty of similarities with the current crop to those Cronulla sides of yesteryear.
‘‘They remind me of the Sharks side I was coaching in terms of not blowing sides away,’’ Lang said.
‘‘That was our strength.
‘‘That we were in the fight every week and that’s what the side has done this year.
‘‘If a team wants two points against them they’ve got to work hard to take it off them.
‘‘They are a gritty side with a sprinkling of class.’’
Lang said that ‘‘sprinkling’’ included Todd Carney’s inclusion and, with their outside backs firing, Lang said that made the Sharks a tougher proposition than the one he coached against while in charge of South Sydney last year.
‘‘We wouldn’t target their outside backs but they didn’t have the firepower there,’’ Lang said.
‘‘I probably thought that they might struggle to score points because they haven’t got the big name outside backs of other clubs, but Colin Best and Ben Pomeroy have been outstanding.’’
‘‘I always thought Ben was more suited to the back row but I’m really pleased for him and I know Besty well and it’s great to see him doing well.’’
The Sharks — who have fallen outside the top four — will again be without Paul Gallen for the clash against Canberra at Toyota Stadium on Sunday.
Jeremy Smith has not been named but is an outside chance of being a late inclusion.
‘‘I think the injury to Paul will do him more good than harm,’’ Lang said.
‘‘It will give him a chance to freshen up.’’
Lang said the challenge for the Sharks was not to be content with a top eight finish.
‘‘Probably at the start of the year they set themselves the goal of making the top eight,’’ Lang said.
‘‘Well now that they’ve got there they have to start thinking about the top four.
‘‘You have to adjust your goals along the way. I remember we had to do that when we won the competition at Penrith.’’
Ben Ross, who was part of Lang’s 2003 premiership winning team at Penrith, will play his 150th first grade game on Sunday.
Kick-off is 2pm