Few would have predicted Cronulla would be vying for a premiership just 12 months on from the dust settling on the ASADA saga.
But the Sharks view it as a continuation of a period of sustained success.
The club was close to ruin last year after the unprecedented turmoil generated by the long-running drugs scandal. On the field, it culminated in a last place finish.
However, they wrote off the 2014 campaign as an anomaly and have rebounded to where they believe they belong – in the finals.
Even at their lowest ebb this season, the playing group insisted self belief was at a high and that’s been vindicated by qualifying for their third finals series in four years.
“I think it’s a great achievement for everyone involved,” coach Shane Flanagan said.
“From administration, people on the front desk, players, staff, supporters, sponsors.
“Everyone’s had to play the part this year and I’m real proud. I’m the head of it but there’s a lot of work from a lot of people has gone into it and there’s been a bit of luck along the way.
“We learnt some lesson and it’s onwards and upwards for us.”
After the Sharks blew a chance to snare a top four spot following their last round loss to Manly last weekend, Flanagan was quick to point out finishing fifth was still above expectations – even if it means they now face sudden death elimination in their qualifying final against premiers South Sydney at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
The Sharks have largely flown under the radar this year, mainly owing to their lowly 2014 finish and a slow start which had them 14th after 11 rounds.
And while they lost seven of their first 11 including their first four straight, they have been one of the form teams in the second half of the year, dropping just three matches.
“We had three tough games that we needed to win – Parramatta, Wests Tigers – and then going into our last game against Manly we knew we were in the eight,” Flanagan said.
“They were tricky games for us. We won two and then fell at the last hurdle.
“Points haven’t been a problem for us. I’d rather concentrate on the other side of things. Especially in semi-finals it’s about defence.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Cronulla have been the first to score in eight of their past nine matches while South Sydney have got on the scoreboard first just once in their past seven starts.
* The Sharks have not made a grand final since the 1997 Super League season, the longest drought of any side behind Canberra (1994).
* Cronulla are aiming to win five games in a row away from Remondis Stadium for the first time since 2005.
* South Sydney have made four consecutive finals series, the first time they have achieved the feat since the early 1970s.