They've done it. In their 50th season, the Cronulla Sharks have finally won a premiership. They've actually done it. The troubled club which was almost belly-up financially a few years ago, is at last the premier fish in the NRL's ocean.
"To all you people in the Shire, turn your porch lights off because we're coming home with the trophy," ecstatic Sharks captain Paul Gallen said upon receiving the premiership trophy.
The Sharks beat the Melbourne Storm 14-12 in the NRL grand final at a packed ANZ Stadium where Cronulla fans significantly outnumbered Storm fans, making it feel like a home game at Shark Park in the Shire.
The Sharks lifted in the home ground atmosphere. They did everything right in the first half, dominating possession and making few mistakes. In contrast, the Storm looked disorganised and dishevelled. Both Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith -- the Storm's two best players -- dropped the ball in their own 20m zone in the first half. Unthinkable. Not how things usually go for the Storm.
Despite their dominance, the Sharks led just 8-0 at halftime after an early penalty and a slick Ben Barba try off a clever Paul Gallen inside ball.
"It's ours to lose from here," Sharks playmaker James Maloney said as he walked off at halftime.
And they nearly did. The Storm hit the lead after two tries of the type which the Storm typically score. They weren't spectacular tries. But the Storm just scored them. The Storm have a way of getting it done, and it looked like they'd do it again. They led 12-8.
To make matters worse, the Sharks had injured players everywhere. Boom young centre Jack Bird suffered what looked like a broken elbow.
"Nothing was stopping me playing the grand final. I'd do anything for these boys," Bird said after the game, as he walked the victory lap looking like a bird with a broken wing.
With 15 to go, Cronulla needed something, anything. They found it through Andrew Fifita, who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this year, but who crashed over when his team needed it most -- taking about five defenders with him as he gritted his teeth, charged, swivelled, and planted the corner of the ball on about three blades of grass.
"I'm just stoked," Fifita said after the game. Which was an understatement.
The last five minutes were chaotic. The Storm broke out of their usual formation -- and pretty much out of character -- and started throwing the ball around everywhere. There was one moment when winger Suliasi Vunivalu was streaking down the right touchline and had Cooper Cronk unmarked on his inside.
Should he have thrown the ball? Definitely. Did he have time to throw it before he was tackled? Maybe. Should he have tried anyway? Definitely. But he didn't, and that was the ball game. The Sharks held on. And Sydney's Sutherland Shire will no doubt be going mad right now.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of these blokes," Sharks skipper Paul Gallen said. "Three weeks ago I was in hospital, I couldn't walk, what they did [in coming from 12-0 down to beat the Canberra Raiders in the first week of the finals] was amazing."
"It's just awesome, I'm so proud of these guys, they're the best bunch of blokes. We just played for each other all year. To all you fans, you've waited 50 years for this. I can't thank you enough."
"A few guys have had stellar careers. A bloke like Gal who's done everything in the game, to help him get this is awesome," James Maloney said of his captain.
The Sharks have been a much-maligned club in recent years. This win won't make the peptides scandal go away, nor make some of Andrew Fifita's past deeds palatable, or even some of the past acts committed by skipper Paul Gallen.
But only a really mean person would deny the club and its fans their moment of glory tonight. The people of the Sutherland Shire have decked houses and whole streets out in club colours. Community spirit is alive. And that's a thing to celebrate.
Storm captain Cameron Smith demonstrated his class with his words for Sharks fans.
"I think everyone who follows rugby league would have to be happy for the Sharks now. I'm happy for the Sharks and all their fans that they get a premiership," he said.Suggest a correction