Almanac League: NRL Preliminary Final Preview – Cronulla v North Queensland

One sleep. Twenty-nine hours, at the time of writing. Got all this week’s work prep done by Monday night, cos I knew I’d be incapable of thinking about much else.

 

Did we have a nice weekend? At the very least I hope you enjoyed not having to fret over the Sharks, and instead watched our two potential opponents belt each other for 90 minutes. Mine started with Liverpool winning at Chelsea, and was rounded off by United losing their third match since our victory in Canberra. Good times. My heart couldn’t have handled four weeks of finals involvement, though. Even three is cutting it fine. The nerves are kicking in now.

 

I’ve never seen Cronulla win a preliminary final. ’99 was my first year as a fan. What a cracking side that was. Can still name most of the main 13. Peachey, Rogers, Ettingshausen, Mellor / Richardson, Howland, Dykes, Healey, Stevens, Triester, Lang, Ryan / Long, … McKenna?, Graham. Warm memories of clattering Manly, Penrith, Brisbane at Shark Park. Losing out on a grand final place to the Dragons hurt, but I didn’t yet realise how costly that was. A premiership was just around the corner, obviously. I’d have gotten into golf or tennis had you told eight-year-old me that I’d still be waiting for one at 24.

 

We’ve made three more preliminaries since then, and lost them all. ’01 to eventual winners Newcastle, who turned out to be miles better than Parramatta. No shame in that. ’02 against the NZ Warriors sums up my – and possibly your – lifetime of supporting this club. A match that cried out for a winner. The Roosters had already beaten us twice that year, and might well have done again in the grand final. But we’ll never know. A defeat I’ll only feel at peace with once we become champions. Despite the Bronco schadenfreude, and the most thrilling finish you’re ever likely to see, last year’s grand final left me a little cold. For Sharks fans, the Cowboys’ maiden premiership is a further reminder of our failure to grasp one. (If the Warriors win it before us, they’ll be the tumbleweed blowing over our wall towards Old Springfield).

 

There are plenty of reasons to believe. I stand by my pre-season call of this being the strongest Cronulla lineup since 2002. At least one former player has called the Canberra comeback win the finest in Sharks history, and it will surely keep fires burning should Friday night find us in similar trouble. The away form upon which 2015 was built has eluded North Queensland, who’ve won just 4 from 13 on the road this year. They’ll carry scars from a brutally intense duel with Brisbane last Friday, too.

 

Fatigue will play its part, but Cronulla would be foolish to expect their rivals to roll over and die once the clock strikes 60. Remember Melbourne in ’08. Lost in week one, outlasted Brisbane 16-14 in week two (that scoreline and opponent ringing any bells?), and mauled us 28-0 a week later. The Cowboys won the comp having lost their first final, so they’re no strangers to the current situation. On balance, I still think we have more factors in our favour then they do. The complacency which plagued rounds 20 to 26 has been eradicated, and this is once again a side to be reckoned with.

 

I see a lot of the Sharks in North Queensland’s progression since 2011. Say we mark our development starting from 2012. Both teams returned to the finals after a three year absence, and were eliminated in September’s first week. Each side moved a step closer the following year; winning their first semi-final before losing the second. Then they took backward steps: North Queensland by falling to 8th and a first week defeat, Cronulla with a wooden spoon due largely to fallout from the ASADA scandal, which came perilously close to doing the club in. Both clubs recovered the year after to reach week two. We all know what the Cowboys did last season. The Sharks are within sight of the same accomplishment.

 

If you’re able to go and haven’t yet bought a ticket, I urge you to. We know how long we’ve waited for a night like this. You don’t know how long it’ll be until the next one. I want the week leading up to grand final day. The fan events. The anticipation. The knowledge that all league fans in the country – and many more people who normally couldn’t care less – have their eyes on your representatives. I want the agony; oh give me the agony. I want the players’ families on the pitch in celebration. I want the trophy.

 

But before then, I just want Friday night. I want our people together. Singing and shouting. Screaming, if that’s required. I want us together after full-time; all happy tears and tight hugs. To be on the march with Flanno’s army.

 

17 glory-bound Sharks to send the premiers back to Townsville: Barba, Feki, Bird, Leutele, Holmes, Maloney, Townsend, Fifita, Ennis, Prior, Lewis, Graham, Gallen. Interchange: Beale, Heighington, Capewell, Bukuya.

About Paul Macadam

Songwriter under my own name, drummer for Library Siesta. Newly ecstatic Cronulla tragic who also loves Liverpool because life wasn't meant to be easy. Too slow for the wing, too skinny for the second row.

Comments

  1. Dennis Gedling says:

    Best of luck Paul, it’s a massive anomaly to have a team in a major Australia wide comp to have never won a title over the decades. Especially when their local rivals seem to win titles for fun.

    Are you watching Essendon?

  2. I’m writing this 10 minutes before kick off. It’s approaching 11am on Friday morning here in the UK and I’m hoping it’s going it’s going to be a very good afternoon. Please…

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