Cronulla will check in some vital self belief on their flight to Townsville this week, alongside the finals toughness they displayed in their convincing 28-12 elimination final win over South Sydney.
The Sharks ended the Rabbitohs’ premiership defence in dramatic fashion at Allianz Stadium on Sunday, streeting to 28-0 just after an hour of play to move into the NRL semi-finals and a match-up on Saturday night with North Queensland.
Cronulla’s charge to the finals was highlighted by a come-from-behind win over the Cowboys in Townsville in round 16. It was a 24-18 victory that ended the home side’s 11-match winning streak and came after they were down 18-0.
Cronulla also managed to get the better of the Cowboys 30-18 in the round-22 return match at Remondis Stadium.
Coach Shane Flanagan said those wins and the victory over the Rabbitohs was proof the Sharks could match it with the premiership heavyweights.
“It is a huge challenge, but we have beaten them up there before, this year,” Flanagan said.
“We have been pretty successful up there. If you get to the end of this competition, you need to beat those good teams, and the boys are really looking forward to the challenge.
“We have got the belief we can win – we have done it before so it is not impossible. Tonight is a reminder we can compete with those big teams. They are a good footy team, Souths; they are the reigning premiers; they weren’t going to hand it over easy today.”
The Sharks dominated Souths for much of the contest with skipper Paul Gallen making big metres and hooker Michael Ennis effectively controlling the ruck. Ennis laid on tries to Anthony Tupou and Sam Tagataese either side of halftime that sealed the win.
Sharks pivot Jack Bird opened the scoring in the 21st minute after he broke the line on a set play and ran 25m.
The Sharks added to that nine minutes later when Wade Graham pounced on a Jeff Robson kick that was fumbled by Paul Carter. Tupou’s 38th-minute try stretched the Sharks’ halftime lead to 18-0.
Tagataese’s effort on the hour put the game to bed. Late tries for the Rabbitohs to Dylan Walker and Chris Grevsmuhl gave the score a better look for Souths’ fans.
Souths won just one of their last five matches of the season. But their cause wasn’t helped by injuries to Greg Inglis and John Sutton and suspensions handed out to Issac Luke and George Burgess.
Coach Michael Maguire said he was happy with the effort from his team.
“I’m really proud of my players,” Maguire said. “It’s not the finish to the season that we would have liked. Everyone aspires to get to the end and we obviously had a great taste of that last year.
“It wasn’t to be this year. The boys tried and they continued to work hard for each other and I’m pretty proud of my players.”
Souths five-eighth Luke Keary was put on report in the first half for an incident which left Gallen clutching at his eye.
Inglis, who struggled with his knee complaint less than three weeks after surgery, was placed on report for a high tackle on Gallen in the 64th minute.
Ennis was put on report for a second-half high shot on Chris McQueen.
The crowd of 27,031 meant a record 131,794 fans attended the first week of the NRL finals.