If North Queensland, Melbourne or Canberra thought Cronulla would wilt under the pressure of trying to win the club’s first premiership, they should think again.
The Sharks host the Cowboys at Allianz Stadium on Friday night looking to qualify for their first grand final since the Super League decider in 1997.
It has been a long wait for Sharks fans. 20 years since their last grand final, 50 years of their existence having never won one.
But Sharks coach Shane Flanagan only sees the challenge as a positive. And Cronulla are embracing the pressure.
“We’re loving it. The boys are loving it. To play this time of year is what it’s all about,” he said.
“That’s why you work really hard in the off-season, November, December, January. And then you play 26 rounds to play this month of footy.
“The players are really using it as motivation for us to win a competition, to be the first team [from Cronulla to win a premiership]. [It gives them] energy.
“It’d be a great achievement for them. They’re not feeling any weight on their shoulders.”
The mood in the shire has been building all week and it may be ready to explode on Friday night.
A parochial Sharks crowd is expected at Moore Park with cars, buses and trains full of black, white and blue fans ready to head north from the shire to watch Cronulla try to end the reigning premiers’ season.
And Flanagan is hoping the Cronulla faithful create a repeat of the atmosphere that greeted the players for their elimination final win over South Sydney at the same venue last season.
“It’s building. I think in the last 24 hours it has even gone to another level [in the shire]. If we’re good enough to win tomorrow night it’ll reach fever pitch that last week,” he said.
“I’d like to think we’d go close [to a sell out].
“You don’t get these opportunities too often. Our supporter base and sponsors have been unreal this year. They’ve turned up week in, week out.
“I think [our fans] do travel, to be really honest.
“I think our semi-final last year here against South Sydney was an unreal event and I think you’ll see another one tomorrow night.”
Cronulla will likely be without forwards Sam Tagataese and Joseph Paulo whose lack of fitness after coming back from injury will see them just miss selection.
The pair trained at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Thursday morning and Flanagan said they would be available should Cronulla reach the grand final.
Cronulla held their final training session, their captain’s run, at Allianz Stadium on Thursday morning, with captain Paul Gallen declared a certain starter after overcoming a back injury.