By James MacSmith
Last season was all about exorcising the demons of their ASADA scandal for Cronulla, according to captain Paul Gallen. This season has been about winning a premiership.
The Sharks can go from wooden spooners to premiers in two seasons on Sunday if they can beat Melbourne in the NRL grand final.
Gallen said winning the grand final was far from his thoughts as the club endured its darkest days during 2014 in which coach Shane Flanagan copped a 12-month suspension and 17 past and current players were banned.
But those days are long gone as the Sharks zero in on their maiden premiership triumph.
“It is good to be here and I feel like we deserve it,” Gallen said.
“If you had asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have known where my head was at and what I was doing.
“I didn’t really care about a whole lot at that time – it was pretty tough.
“Last year we came back and we built up; we got all that crap out of our heads.”
Cronulla made it through to the second weekend of the finals last year after finishing the regular season in sixth. They ended South Sydney’s premiership defence in a 28-12 elimination-final win, before being thumped 39-0 in the semi-final against eventual premiers North Queensland.
Their road to the grand final this year has been via a 16-14 qualifying-final win over Canberra in week one after the Sharks finished third during the regular season and a 32-20 defeat of the Cowboys last week in the preliminary final.
The Sharks will play on Sunday in their first grand final in a united competition for the first time since 1978.
“At the time in 2014, football and playing football and winning games and winning grand finals was the furtherest thing from our minds,” Gallen said.
“But the dark days are gone – the good days are here now.”