Unlike rivals North Queensland, Cronulla say they have embraced the pressure to finally break their premiership drought ahead of Saturday night’s NRL knockout semi-final in Townsville.
As Cowboys coach Paul Green tried to relieve expectation on his title-less team in league-crazy Townsville on Friday, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan urged his side to “dare to dream”.
Flanagan does not have to be reminded that Cronulla have never won a title in their 49-year history despite three grand-final appearances.
They last made a season decider (Super League) in 1997 – the longest grand final drought besides Canberra (1994).
Yet, Flanagan didn’t flinch on Friday when the elephant in the room was addressed.
“I think we need to embrace it,” he said.
“We can’t ignore that it’s out there that the club hasn’t won a premiership and we’re still in the fight at the moment.
“I think all the boys, it’s in the back of their minds and they talk about it – how good it would be to be the first (Sharks) team to win the premiership?
“There’s two really good teams in front of us that we need to beat … but dare to dream.”
In contrast, Green tried to calm his players ahead of a game that had predictably launched another contagious case of finals fever in the league-mad heartland.
Pivot Michael Morgan is still beating himself up over his quiet return from an ankle injury in last week’s 16-12 qualifying-final loss to Brisbane, claiming he did not provide enough support for prized playmaker Johnathan Thurston.
“The players realise how much this means to the community,” Green said.
“We want to put a show on for them.
“But no one needs to put too much pressure on themselves – Johnno (Thurston) included.
“Morgs has blamed himself and that is a load of rubbish.
“It was his first game back. He could have probably contributed a bit more but he’ll be fine.
“If we play close to our best, the result will take care of itself.”
League great Greg Alexander wasn’t so sure, claiming the Cowboys might have peaked too early.
North Queensland won a season-best 17 games this year including a club record 11-match streak.
Alexander does not believe they are likely to win a maiden title 10 years after their sole grand final to date (2005 v Wests Tigers).
He is concerned the Cowboys have won just one game in their past six against top-eight sides.
“They may have already played their best football,” he told Fox Sports.
For the record, North Queensland have won all five finals played in Townsville.
Cronulla – the only team to have beaten the Cowboys twice this year – have never won a playoff outside Sydney.