The Roar
The Roar


'We’re better for that taste this year': How the pain of last year's straight sets flameout is powering the Sharks

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4th September, 2023

Sharks captain Wade Graham is backing his team to use the motivation from last year’s finals flameout to see his side home in this Saturday’s elimination match with the Roosters.

The Sharks have won just one finals game since picking up the Premiership in 2016, and were bundled out with two straight defeats in 2022 – but Graham, the only survivor from the title-winning squad, said the modern squad would learn from previous defeats and channel that feeling into success this time around.

“It’s that experience of the finals,” he said. “It’s a different atmosphere, a different feeling when you’re on the field, a different noise. You know it’s all at stake.

“It was the first time for that group in that environment and you can be told a hundred times what it feels like, but until you actually do it together, you don’t know.

“We’ve done it together now and were unfortunately on the wrong end of it last year. Hopefully we can take our lessons and be on the right end of it this year.

“You work so hard for an opportunity like this. It’s a tough competition, that’s why it’s so incredible what the Panthers have been able to do the last couple of seasons.

“You get opportunities and nothing’s guaranteed. You just never know. It’s important that we learn, this is a pretty new group compared to the 2016 era with all those guys, but we got a taste of it last and went out in straight sets. 


“We’re better for that this year, we’re better for even the slide we went through a month or two ago. To get out of the back of that and play some good footy coming home, we’re ready to go. 

“We’ve earned our opportunity but just because we’ve earned it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. We need to make sure we prepare the best we can to give ourselves the opportunity to play well on Saturday night. 

“We know what’s coming, the Roosters are a good team and it’s going to be a hell of a contest.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 18: Nicholas Hynes of the Sharks is tackled by Paul Alamoti of the Bulldogs during the round 16 NRL match between Cronulla Sharks and Canterbury Bulldogs at PointsBet Stadium on June 18, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Nicho Hynes. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Saturday’s opponents arrive on a tear, having played knockout footy for weeks to make the eight. Graham was under no illusions about the strength of the Chooks, and of the mind games that would be going on between Sharks boss Craig Fitzgibbon and his former mentor, Roosters coach Trent Robinson.

“They’ve got the momentum, the Roosters,” said the Cronulla captain.

“Fitzy and Robbo are pretty close and have a great relationship, so obviously we’rer familiar with them and they’re familiar with us as well. It’s going to be a great contest. 


“I know they’re missing some of their key players with question marks, but they do have momentum. They showed that last weekend against Souths in a game that was basically an elimination final anyway.

“They’ve got the audition in and shown they can handle it. They’re good team and we know what’s coming.

Should the Sharks progress, they will face the loser of the Broncos v Storm match – though Graham himself couldn’t see past his former club, Penrith, as the team to beat.

“It’s hard to go past Penrith at this point,” he said. “They’re so impressive in the way they go about their business and play their footy. I’ve played some pretty good teams over the years but they’re up there.

“You can see Brisbane causing some issues. They’ve got to play out of Suncorp, they’re exciting, they have big strong forwards and their backline is as good as anyones. And they have Adam Reynolds steering the ship, so they’re in good shape.

“The Warriors arer flying under the radar because even if they lose this week, someone still has to go to New Zealand. They’re going to get a game there no matter what. 

“If they jag this week and someone has to go there for a Prelim, you never know. I’d have to tip Penrith but, much like this whole season, there’s been so much change.


“Take out Penrith and Brisbane who have been at the top for the whole year, the bottom six of the eight has changed every week. It’s been a really close competition.”

Whatever happens, Graham will finish up this year, having done a final lap of honour at Shark Park after Sunday’s win over the Raiders.

It’s been a fairytale end for the club legend, though, of course, he would like it to go on a bit longer yet.

“It’s been really nice,” said Graham.

“Nothing is guaranteed in sport – you never know how its going to start and you definitely don’t know how its going to finish. I feel lucky and grateful the way that the cards have fallen for me this last month.

“To have my parents fly over for my 250th for the club, then the next week I get to announce my retirement from the club and then follow that up with being able to celebrate my last home game this last week has worked out well.

“Now we have a finals game, it’s not about me. The finals are about the team and trying to continue this journey for 2023. We’ve put that (retirement) to bed, we’ve had the celebration and now we can move forward. 


“I’ve been humbled by the amount of people who have reached out – people from other clubs, supporters messaging me and saying a lot of nice words and kind gestures.”