Shane Flanagan hopes a sea of black, white and blue greets his players when they run out at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night as Cronulla start their charge for a second premiership in three years.
The Sharks face the Sydney Roosters with the winner to enjoy a week off as well as advancing straight to the preliminary final.
The match promises to be arguably the best of week one of the finals. The star-studded minor premiers include Cooper Cronk, Boyd Cordner, James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell in their side. While Cronulla can boast arguably the form player of the competition in Valentine Holmes as well as game-breakers Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan and Andrew Fifita.
A number of supporter buses will leave Southern Cross Group Stadium to make the short journey to Moore Park carrying hundreds of Cronulla fans.
The shire came down with ‘Shark Fever’ this time two years ago, as the Sharks rode the wave of support all the way to their maiden title.
And while Cronulla’s sights are firmly set on this weekend and nothing further, Flanagan is hopeful the community get behind the team again.
“We’ve got to play well. If we get some momentum tomorrow I think obviously if we win that game the grand final qualifier will be a ripper again like it was in ‘16. But we’ve got a job to do first, we can’t look too far ahead,” he said.
“I heard there was [going to be] maybe 60 per cent to 40 per cent Sharks to Roosters fans. So that’s a good thing for us.
“Hopefully both Roosters and Sharks fans [will turn up]. I just hope it’s full. I don’t care if they are Roosters fans, I just want it full.
“It’s going to be a great game. It’s a great time of the year. It’s going to be a quality game. You’ve got some real superstars in both teams going at each other. You talk about Val and Tedesco but up front there’s going to be Andrew and [Jared Waerea-]Hargreaves.
“[Jake Friend] is a good player. They’ve got quality across the park and I like to think we have. It’s going to be a ripper, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Flanagan has a couple of good selection headaches with Ricky Leutele and Jesse Ramien returning from knee and ankle injuries respectively.
With Holmes likely to remain at fullback, Dugan may be forced to the right wing to accommodate Ramien in the centres at the expense of Edrick Lee. While Leutele is likely to re-kindle his underrated left-side combination with the in-form Sosaia Feki, with Kurt Capewell to shift back to the bench.
“The weather was beautiful out there training today. You work really hard through November, December, January, February and through the season to play in games like this at this time of year,” Flanagan said.
“They’ve got a spring in their step and it’s great to be playing at this time of year.”