Michael Ennis doesn’t want to die with the music in him.
Around 6pm on Sunday night, deep in ANZ Stadium, the Cronulla hooker will lace up his boots one last time.
After three cracks at an NRL grand final, two of which he was forced to watch from the sidelines, he will get one last chance at hoisting the Provan-Summons trophy before traipsing off into retirement.
It’s now or never for one of rugby league’s most polarising figures. A gentleman off the field, a serial pest on it.
He has been at the top of his game for over 10 years and is arguably the best player of the last two decades never to have played Test football.
It would be fitting for him to go out with a premiership ring, especially considering the legacy he has built for himself after two outstanding years in the Shire.
That he has never won a grand final still drives the 32-year -old. While he’s played State of Origin and won the Dally M hooker of the year in 2009, it remains a glaring omission on his resume.
“It’s a great opportunity where you’re one of two chance of being a grand final winner,” Ennis said.
“It’s certainly something that has driven me – especially after what happened in 2014.
“When I came here I was confident in the guys that we could get to it.
“But there’s a lot that goes into getting there. A lot of things have to fall into place whether it be injuries, form, Origin – there’s so much that goes into a season.”
In 2006 a season-ending knee injury robbed Ennis of the chance to play a part in Brisbane’s grand final win over Melbourne. In his place, Shaun Berrigan wore the No.9 and took home the Clive Churchill Medal.
Six years later, he finally got the chance to make the showpiece event with Canterbury, however Des Hasler’s side were outclassed by the Storm in a fiery affair.
When asked about what lessons the 2016 Sharks should take from that game, as they chase their first premiership against the Storm on Sunday, Ennis says they must take their chances because Craig Bellamy’s side don’t give you many.
“It was a pretty even game – we bombed a couple of chances and they took their chances,” Ennis said of the 2012 decider.
“Sisa Waqa knocked a couple of balls down that Benny (Barba) and Josh Morris had created on the edges and it was as simple as that.
“They had a couple of opportunities and they put points on the board. It finished up 14-6 but it could have gone either way. They were good enough on the day and deserve full credit for what they did.”
Then in 2014, the Bulldogs were back at the season decider but this time Ennis was ruled out after cruelly breaking his foot in their preliminary final win over Penrith.
It’s fitting that Ennis’ final game is against his old sparing partner – Storm, Queensland and Australian captain Cameron Smith.
As well as meeting in the 2014 grand final, they clashed during seven State of Origin games – with Ennis coming out on top just twice.
Ennis says Smith and the Storm have been the benchmark of the competition for a long time however emphasises they’re not unbeatable.
“When we played them this year, the games have probably been polar opposites – one where we dominated and one where they dominated,” Ennis said.
“I just think we didn’t execute (when they played off for the minor premiership in round 26). We created some chances and didn’t ice them. When you play against Melbourne you know they don’t miss their chances.”
Smith speaks about his rival in glowing terms, calling him the catalyst behind the Sharks’ resurrection over the last two seasons.
“For a guy that’s been around as long as he has and has played so many games, he’s represented NSW, he’s a quality player, he’s one of the best dummy halves that we’ve seen in the modern game,” Smith said.
“The biggest strength of Michael is his competitiveness.
“He’s a tough little bugger. Big blokes run at him, he gets up and does his best.
“A huge reason why the Cronulla Sharks are in the grand final this year is because of what Mick’s done on the field this year.”