A sea of black, white and blue helped carry Cronulla to their historic maiden premiership last season and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan wants more of the same.
The club have put on a number of supporter buses hoping to recreate the atmosphere of Cronulla’s 2016 finals run for their elimination final against the Cowboys at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
Thousands of Sharks fans followed the team south for their epic week one win over the Raiders in Canberra last season before the shire took over Allianz and ANZ stadiums for their grand final qualifier against North Queensland and grand final victory over Melbourne.
There had been an upturn in ticket sales on Friday morning with Flanagan urging Cronulla fans to get out and support the team.
“It was amazing [last year]. We [were] doing a bit of video this week on that game against the Cowboys and just looking into the Allianz stands there was just black, white and blue supporters right across there. It was a magic feeling,” he said.
“I remember when James Maloney took that intercept and that probably put the game to bed then, it was an amazing feel. Going back recalling those type of things, Paul Gallen said it was the most lopsided crowd he’s ever seen. Probably the week later at the grand final topped that. But it was definitely a great atmosphere and hopefully we can get all the supporters there this weekend.
“We hope [we’ll have good support]. We’ve put on buses for all our supporters. Last year we had 20 buses go out for that grand final qualifier. It'd be lovely if we could get near that total. It does make a difference to the players. It’s a real challenge. Hopefully with the [finals] starting tonight everyone starts to get that semi-final feel, they fill up those buses and we get about 20 buses go out on Sunday.
“If we were going to play anywhere else [than Shark Park] that’s where we wanted to play. We’ve had great experiences [at Allianz Stadium] over the last couple of years. We’ve played a lot of semi-finals there going back three or four years. It’s a good place for us, we’ve got good memories there. We’ve played well against the Roosters when we have to play there. It’s a home away from home for us.”
Flanagan questioned whether the NRL should allow Sydney teams hosting week one semi-finals against out of state teams the chance to host finals matches at their home ground, rather than taking them to larger venues at Moore Park or Sydney Olympic Park.
“I think you need to have flexibility in those decisions. I know it’s a tough one. We want to fill Allianz on one hand and then if we’re not going to fill it we want to play here. It’s a catch-22, when do you make that decision? You can’t make it later in the week… it just doesn’t work,” he said.
“So I understand the NRL’s position and we’ve got to drive our supporters right across the game. As a game we should be able to fill Allianz for tonight’s game, the Saturday night game and Sunday’s game. We’re on the east coast, it’s semi-final series, we should be able to fill it.
“If there is 16,000 [for Sharks vs Cowboys] we could have it [at Shark Park]. But I want more than 16,000, I want to have 26,000. If we get 26,000 like we did the last semi-final they can’t fit here so I understand why it goes there. We want to play in big stadiums but also if we’re not going to fill them we need to have the opportunity to probably play them here at Southern Cross Group Stadium. But it is what it is and we’re looking forward to playing at Allianz.”
Sharks fans can purchase tickets for supporter buses from the club website or shop. Bus tickets are $10 for members, $15 for non-members with children under five-years-old free.
Tickets to the match also include public transport with trains running to Central and shuttle buses to Moore Park.