As the North Queensland juggernaut continues to roll through the league, and Brisbane skipping along with them, Cronulla’s resurgence isn’t supposed to be getting any air play.
But Sharks coach Shane Flanagan knows that isn’t the case.
“I wish,” he says.
Instead, Flanagan’s side have been the toast of Sydney after surging to third spot, perched comfortably behind both title heavyweights, almost a third of the way through the NRL season.
It’s a burden the Sharks mentor is now open to wearing as his team battle towards earning the respect of the competition. And after the ease they dispatched Canberra last week, the admiration has come in droves.
“There’s been a bit of media this week about how we’re going and our position. But come see me in round 20 and if we’re in the same position, I’d be really happy,” he said.
“The challenge is to be where we are in 20 weeks time. A lot of work to be done.
“We’ve seen many times before, clubs get off to a good start and a few little injuries or a mishap here and there and the wheels can fall off.”
The Sharks’ next hurdle is a stubborn Penrith side that continue to find ways to play out thrillers.
Last week’s tense win over the Sydney Roosters was the club’s seventh straight game that has gone down to the wire, with the game in the balance in the final five minutes.
The four-point victory was their biggest of the year.
“It’s been pretty well documented how competitive (Penrith have) been,” Flanagan said.
But with the return of former Panthers captain Luke Lewis from suspension, the Sharks now have a full roster at their disposal to consolidate their status as a premiership contender.
It’s a status Flanagan embraces.
“We need a little bit of luck on the way through, particularly with injuries. But if we continue to improve, our goal is to be there in that (top) four at the end of the season,” he said.
After Panthers prop Sam McKendry failed to overturn a contrary conduct charge at the NRL judiciary, either Jeremy Latimore or Elijah Taylor will take his place.
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Cronulla have won five of their past seven matches against Penrith, five of which have been decided by eight points or less. Three more have been decided by two points or less
* The Sharks are a perfect three from three at home this season, but haven’t opened with four straight home wins since claiming the minor premiership in 1999
* Andrew Fifita’s 96 metres last week was the first time since 2014 that he failed to crack the 100-metre mark.