It’s taken 50 years for Cronulla’s premiership window to be this wide open but they bristle at suggestions it will be suddenly slammed shut upon Michael Ennis’ retirement.
Shane Flanagan’s Sharks are arguably in with the club’s best chance at a maiden NRL title after winning through to within one game of the grand final following Saturday’s gutsy win over Canberra.
And while all the stars have seemingly aligned for the long-suffering people of The Shire, the Sharks deny it’s a case of now or never.
Ennis’ retirement after this season will be felt – he has arguably been their most influential player this year.
However Sharks players roll their eyes at suggestions they’ll slide out of premiership contention when Ennis hangs up his boots, insisting there’s plenty of cause for optimism about 2017 and beyond.
“Not at all,” winger Valentine Holmes said when asked if their premiership window was closing.
“We’re a tough, resilient team and we feel like we don’t rely on just one person.”
He pointed to the away qualifying final win over Canberra for proof.
“As a team on the weekend, we didn’t have (skipper Paul Gallen) and (Wade Graham), so I think we’ve got it covered.”
Besides fullback Ben Barba (21), no Sharks player has set up more tries than Ennis this year (12).
The Sharks have signed Wests Tigers rake Manaia Cherrington with a view to him being Ennis’ replacement next season, however Nu Brown also shapes as a possibility to wear the No.9 jersey.
While Graham also denied the Sharks would be a spent force without Ennis, he urged his teammates to make the most of a rare premiership opportunity.
“You just never know, it’s such a hard competition,” Graham said.
“It’s the hardest competition in the world. Every team can win on their day. Every team can beat every team.
“It’s a marathon season and it’s so hard just to get there. It’s important just to enjoy it.”