Saturday, 10 September 2016

Turn On The Porch Lights In The Shire (2016)

The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks entered the competition in 1967. December that year saw the disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt off a Point Nepean beach. Since then, neither Holt nor premiership success for the Sharks has been forthcoming.

Many years later, the first man to be dubbed a ‘supercoach’, Jack Gibson, who had gone to the Sharks in the mid-1980s to try and deliver their first title, once proclaimed that “waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch lamp on for Harold Holt”.

And for many years, the club has proven him to be right. But not without some close efforts. However, they never seemed to have the balance between good defence, top-quality attack, depth, youth, experience and X-factors across the park all at the same time – which has been a pre-requisite for so many premiers.

Until now.

After 10 rounds of the 2016 season, the Sharks have scored more points and have a better points differential than at the same time in any of their previous seasons. They have also equalled their record for best start to a season after 10 rounds, with eight wins. They have only achieved this twice before, in 1999 (when they went on to become minor premiers) and in 1978 (where they went on to play in the grand final).

History, it seems, is already indicating big things for them this year – and justifiably so.

They have an experienced and powerful pack, with good depth and an X-factor in Andrew Fifita. In the halves they have two genuine ball-players with good kicking and passing games, who can also break the line as ball-runners. In the backs they have speed and power with three dynamic players in Ben Barba (returning to his career-best form) at fullback, exciting young winger Valentine Holmes and young utility back Jack Bird.

If they do make the grand final and it looks to be a tight match, the Sharks will be well-placed to pull off a watershed win. In their last 100 games, they have had seven games decided by just one point, five of which the Sharks prevailed. During that same period, 24 of their last 100 games have been decided by two points or less, the Sharks winning 15 (at 62.50%). No team has played more close games in their last 100 than Cronulla.

This tough and gritty determination is exactly what’s required at finals time. Cronulla has possessed this for years. But this season they now have a blistering attack that can strike from anywhere on the field.

Last weekend, against somewhat of a hoodoo team in Newcastle, they faced a challenge where many highly fancied sides stumble. Taking on an opponent they are expected to beat, having won several games in a row, on their home soil, against a side you have a less than ideal record against, many teams struggle to live up to expectations.

But the dominant sides, the real premiership contenders, can put all that pressure aside and do what is expected of them. That’s exactly what the Sharks did, beating the Knights 62-0.

They need to come out with the same gusto, mindset and intent this weekend against another side they have a poor record against, bitter rivals Manly. Brisbane threw down the gauntlet last weekend with a commanding 30-6 win over the Sea Eagles. The Sharks need to focus on matching that result to send a clear message to the other contenders for the 2016 premiership.

Can they do it and go on to claim a maiden title?
The evidence suggests all porch lamps should be turned on.

**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**

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