Wade Graham has labelled Cronulla’s controversial 2017 finals exit as a wasted opportunity and is keen to make the most of the Sharks’ chance to win a second premiership in three seasons.
The Sharks will make the short journey to Moore Park to take on the Sydney Roosters in their qualifying final on Saturday night, with the clash regarded as arguably the best of the NRL’s four week one finals match ups.
Cronulla finished level on points with the Roosters but the Tri Colours’ superior points differential saw them crowned minor premiers.
A win at Allianz Stadium would give Cronulla a week off and safe passage straight to a preliminary final, one victory away from another grand final.
But the Sharks are taking nothing for granted after they were unceremoniously bundled out in week one of the finals last year by eventual grand finalists North Queensland.
The loss prompted Shane Flanagan’s infamous spray of match officials and wider issues regarding refereeing of the game.
But Graham said lessons had been learned from last season.
“It just goes to show we got there and were playing reasonably good footy. We weren’t playing great footy but we were still confident within our squad. And we just weren’t good enough on the day,” he said.
“We look at that and it’s a wasted opportunity. You work so hard throughout the year, you get right to the finals and then bow out in week one, it’s definitely disappointing. You feel like all that work has gone to waste.
“But at the end of the day it is what it is. The NRL is a tough game, there’s 16 other great teams out there. This year there was two points between first and eighth. It’s never been more even. It’s wide open as it has been and we’re very grateful to be a part of it.”
Cronulla players routinely spoke during the month-long 2016 finals series of their desperation not to miss their chance of winning a premiership.
It worked, as they led the club to its historic first title.
Now, that attitude is back. And Graham is confident Cronulla have what it takes to seize the day.
“You can see by how tight the competition is how hard the NRL is. It’s a marathon and you work all year, almost 12 months back from [pre-season in] November, to get the opportunity to play in a finals series,” he said.
“And then to get to the final series to try to take that opportunity it’s such a hard thing and it doesn’t come around often. There’s already eight other teams that unfortunately didn’t make it. After this weekend there’ll be two more teams. You never know how many you’ve got.
“You’ve got to reflect on a positive season to start with and then be conscious of the opportunity that you have and try to make the most of it because they don’t come around often.”