For the first time time in 16 years, Cronulla are sitting on top of the NRL world.
Just one night after premiership heavyweights Brisbane and North Queensland played out another high quality, local derby epic, the Sharks leapfrogged both with a grinding 20-12 win over Manly.
Not since the Sharks won their opening game of the 2000 season has the view in the Shire been this high, and the side will ride into next week’s bye with an eight-game winning streak in tow.
“We’re really happy with where we’re at,” coach Shane Flanagan said.
“Going into a bye weekend, going into an Origin series, we’re pretty healthy sitting on top of the competition table. It might be only for a week or so but we’re really happy with what we’ve done.
“(But) competitions aren’t won at this time of the year. A lot of water to go under the bridge yet.”
Sharks captain Paul Gallen echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We’ve done well, eight in a row is a good effort but hopefully we’re saying that round 26 going into a semi final series,” he said.
“We understand as a club that basically we’ve done nothing.”
The Sharks are now set to be rewarded for restoring some pride back in the state, with Flanagan preparing to lose up to five players to NSW State of Origin camp this week.
Blues coach Laurie Daley names his series-opening line-up on Monday, with James Maloney, Jack Bird, Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham all a chance of joining skipper Paul Gallen in Coogee.
“There’s probably four or five that have got a real big chance, but we’ll just wait and see until Monday,” Flanagan said.
Fifita produced yet another stat-crunching effort against the Sea Eagles, almost single-handedly turning the game with his second half stint before finishing with 202 metres, five offloads and five tackle busts.
Maloney’s supreme goalkicking was a major factor in the win, kicking four goals from five attempts, while Bird again proved a handful on the right flank.
Gallen said Bird was a spitting image of another former Bird at the Sharks and Blues.
“He reminds me of a young Greg Bird, to be honest. He was the same,” he said.
“They’ve got that confidence where every time they walk out onto the field they believe they’re the best player on the field. To Birdy’s credit, he often shows it.”