This is Part 7 of my series speaking with fans from all NRL teams to see what it’s really like to support their team. This week, the Cronulla Sharks.
In 1967, the Sutherland Shire got an NRL team to call their own. The Cronulla Sharks have gone on to produce legends of the game such as Tommy Bishop, Steve Rogers, Gavin Miller, and Andrew ‘ET’ Ettingshausen.
Despite the superstars that have pulled on the jersey, a grand final victory continued to elude them. But Sharks supporters never gave up hope.
The 50-year drought was broken in 2016, and Cronulla’s long-suffering fans rejoiced. They cheered, they cried, and they finally turned their porch lights off.
I spoke to two of those fans, Dan and Terry. They are co-hosts of the Sharks podcast ‘Fins Up’, as well as the YouTube show ‘Rugby League Outlaws’, discussing all things rugby league.
And what better way to start today then chatting about that grand final win.
“2016 was a horror year for me personally,” Dan began, “but the Sharks’ grand final win makes it one of the best years of my life. That final play went for 15 minutes, and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. I don’t happy cry often, but this was waterworks deluxe.”
Terry added: “I nearly didn’t go. I was sick that morning from nerves and I just didn’t want to go through the pain of losing. I was convinced to go, and I am glad I did. A good friend of mine, Phil, a fan since 1967, came down from Brisbane for the game. The tears, the emotion, just everything. It’s singlehandedly the best moment.”
I asked how the guys became Sharks fans.
“My parents separated early, and I was babysat on a Friday night by my uncle,” Terry explained.
“He took me to a game in 1994 and I was forced to go for the winner between Cronulla and South Sydney. Cronulla won 42-0, ET scored five tries and I fell in love with the club from that moment.”
Dan was born into it.
“My nan and pop were huge fans, my dad is a huge fan, and my earliest memories are of me sitting on the old benches at Shark Park.”
I asked what the best and worst part of being a Sharks fan was.
“There’s a community feel within the club,” Dan answered.
“The Shire is a world of its own and the Sharks are a huge part of its identity. Most of my mates I have met through the Sharks.”
“The worst part? Everything else! For pretty much my entire life, the Sharks have been their own worst enemy. It makes the wins more fun though.”
“The best part about being a Sharks fan is the same as the worst. Everything. This club puts you through hell yearly and I wouldn’t change it.”
Speaking of going through hell, a stigma that still surrounds the club is the peptide scandal. I asked how that makes them feel.
“I don’t think or care about it,” Terry responded.
“We took substances that weren’t banned for 11 weeks and finished 14th. It would be different if we won the comp and had it stripped or took another team’s spot in the grand final illegally, but it doesn’t faze me at all.
“Other teams have had players banned for steroids and cocaine longer than our players were suspended.”
Dan added: “I embrace it. We were the team who opened the doors, let ASADA gut us, finished last then two years later lifted the trophy.
“No other club could have survived that. That said, it was a very dark time in our history and shows just how unprofessionally we were run at the time.”
Another dark time for the club was this season’s John Morris saga. I asked the guys their opinion on the drama, and how it was handled.
Terry believed it had to happen.
“We weren’t going anywhere fast, and a change was needed. Was it handled the best? No. Could it have been handled better? Sure. But what else can you do in that situation?
“We got the desired outcome, it’s just a shame that a great clubman in John Morris was the on the wrong end of the sword.”
“It was horribly mishandled but ultimately the right decision was made. Morris was a wonderful clubman for the Sharks, but Craig Fitzgibbon is the future.
“The club never truly trusted in Morris, and I think it left a bitter taste in his mouth. I don’t blame him and wish him the best at Souths, but ‘Sir Fitz’ is our man!”
Sticking with the topic of Sir Fitz, I wanted to see if the guys were happy about Fitzgibbon’s appointment as coach – although I think I already knew the answer.
“Ten out of ten, yes!” Dan exclaimed.
“The entire atmosphere has changed. Speaking to the players, there’s an excitement and respect there I haven’t seen since the Shane Flannagan days. Fitz is our best signing since Luke Lewis.”
Terry was just as happy.
“Fitzgibbon has long been touted as the next up-and-coming coach. The Warriors, Dragons, Bulldogs, Tigers, Titans, and Cowboys all sounded him out and he rejected them.
“Fitz personally selected us. Maybe it’s nostalgia from his dad, or he truly believes in what we have here, but no Sharks fan should complain.
“This is a man who has done it all – Origins, City-Country, premierships, grand final losses, and a Super League stint. His resume before he coaches a game is outstanding.
“Add to the fact that the Roosters made sure they got him back, made sure they kept him the final year instead of an early release, allowed him to join rep camps as a coach – it speaks volume of the pedigree and calibre of Fitzgibbon.
“The impact can already be seen around the club, but this will only get better and better.”
With the NRL’s big crackdown on concussion this season, I asked how they saw Wade Graham’s future in the game.
“One more concussion and I’d like to see Wade move into an admin or coaching role,” Dan replied.
“He is one of the all-time great Sharks and a weapon on our left edge, but his health is everything.”
Terry added: “Wade’s issue is technique with a pinch of bad luck. Luckily for him, his new coach is one of the best defensive backrowers the game has ever seen.”
One cheeky question I couldn’t help but ask – why do they think so many NRL fans dislike like Paul Gallen?
“Jealousy,” Dan replied. “Gal always played on, and often crossed the line. If he wasn’t a Shark, I’d probably dislike him! He was the heart, soul, and backbone of some ordinary Sharks sides, and let his frustrations boil over. It’s probably jealousy though.”
Terry added: “Lots of reasons. I am not a Paul Gallen fan. He is loud, arrogant, outspoken – wow, I just described Dan – and was also a real pest on the field.
“Fans also hate him for getting punching banned, but they were the first to stand up and applaud him when he punched Nate Myles in the face.”
Cronulla have some big names joining the team with Dale Finucane, Nicho Hynes and Cam McInnes. How excited are the guys to have them at the club?
“I have to admit,” Terry began, “I have never kept a close eye on McInnes – I always saw him as an average attacking dummy half who can tackle for a week and not get tired.
“His games at lock, however, in the new game cannot be ignored. He is the one I look forward to watching now.
“Hynes was the hottest player on the open market – physically and talent wise. To land him is a huge win for Fitz and a sound showing of his belief in himself to play as a half. He was all but done to be the Broncos’ fullback.
“Finucane needs nothing said about him that isn’t out there! A leader, a winner – never missed the finals in his career – and a truly sensational person. This has been a very astute recruitment drive from Cronulla.”
Dan agreed and believed it’s the best recruitment class ever.
“They all fit our needs and bring a professionalism to the club that we needed. McInnes is the best under the radar signing of the season. I’ve been spruiking signing Hynes since 2019. Finucane is the literal perfect player for what we needed.”
Besides the new recruits, who else were they expecting big things from in 2022?
“We have an exciting crop of juniors that are ready to develop. We have two exceptional young wingers in Sam Stonestreet and Jordan Samrani, a huge prop in Franklin Pele and some outside backs ready to take the next step. I am also excited to see if Jackson Ferris can avoid injury and become the class centre we all know he is.”
Dan thinks Ronaldo Mulitalo will have a great season.
“Big talk is he will finally move into the centres, and I see him becoming a New Zealand regular. He’s the most likeable player in the game and has the talent to match.”
I asked who their favourite player was, past and present.
“David Peachey was my favourite player growing up,” Dan replied.
“Paul Gallen is my all-time favourite but right now it’s 100 per cent Nicho Hynes. Just look at him! What’s not to love!?”
“ET was my first love,” Terry added, “but Brett Kimmorley is my all-time favourite. There was just something about ‘Noddy’! Current favourite is easy, Toby Rudolf. The guy is just Mr Charisma and will be a rep player in no time.”
Last question as always, if you could stand up in front of the team and say anything, what would it be?
Terry made fun of his co-host.
“Don’t pay attention to anything Dan says about you on our podcast!”
Dan’s was a bit more heartfelt.
“I both love you and hate you in equal amounts. The Sharks have been the one constant in my life, and I love this club more than I should.
“I’d also ask Nicho Hynes for a selfie.”
Dan, Terry and all the Sharks fans have a lot to look forward to next season. With a new coach to lead, new stars to guide, existing talent to rise and the team returning to their newly renovated home ground of Shark Park, it seems the only way for Cronulla is ‘Up Up’.