Not many coaches get to succeed where Jack Gibson has failed.
Shane Flanagan can do just that – and boast one of the game’s great coaching achievements – if Cronulla claim their maiden premiership with a win over Melbourne in Sunday’s NRL grand final.
Super-coach Gibson secured Parramatta’s first premiership success in 1981, and then made it a hat-trick of titles two years later just for good measure.
Nicknamed The Guru, Gibson also ended a 40-year title drought at the Roosters in 1974 and threw in the ’75 premiership as well.
After his incredible success at the Eels, Gibson moved to the Shire for three seasons from 1985 to 1987 but even he couldn’t deliver the Sharks their highly-sought after silverware.
Cronulla qualified for the finals in the two years after Gibson left, but his longest- lasting legacy of his time there has been his immortal quote: “Waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch lamp on for Harold Holt.”
Fittingly, Flanagan paid tribute to Gibson’s long-time offsider Ron Massey for his guidance after Friday’s preliminary win over premiers North Queensland.
Consider what 50-year-old Flanagan has done to take his team from wooden spoon and ASADA ban ignominy to the edge of grand final glory in the space of just two years.
It would have seemed nigh impossible in 2014 when he was serving his one-year suspension for governance issues from the club’s 2011 supplements program scandal.
Sharks boss Lyall Gorman says Flanagan spent much of that time working on his approach to coaching.
“Shane came back after 12 months off, and a long time to reflect on where he was going and his style of leadership, and he has emerged as the figure we can all see now,” says Gorman.
“There is his strong leadership, his exceptional man management skills, his passion for the club and the game and his vision for the future.
“Win, lose or draw he won’t be satisfied on Sunday.
“His goal and my goal is to make this the club of choice in the NRL.
“He has absolute clarity about that and a great team around him.”
Flanagan is universally loved by his players and Gorman said he is very adept at the art of man management. Something Gibson also excelled at.
“He builds a tremendous rapport,” Gorman says.
“He knows when it is time to be disciplined and strong and tough and knows there are other times when you can sit back and relax.
“He can take the heat out of the moment, put that anxiety aside. But he is very driven at the same time.”
Gorman, who joined the Sharks at the end of 2014, says Flanagan suffered before that from a lack of support.
“Our governance model and management model around the club has improved a lot and so no longer does it all fall on his shoulders.”
“He probably felt back in 2013 a very large percentage of his club was on his shoulders.”
Along with skipper Paul Gallen, Flanagan has served as a figurehead for Cronulla through its toughest time, which including the suspension of 17 current and former players over the supplements scandal.
The duo can lead the Sharks to their greatest triumph on Sunday.
“Since he came back (from suspension) he has been great,” Gallen says of Flanagan.
“His recruitment has been really good.
“Obviously he got guys like Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes to be the players they are today.
“He has also set up a really good senior player squad, picking up guys like Michael Ennis and turning Wade Graham into the leader he is today.
“It has been a massive effort by him particularly after what he went through.”