Don’t dare mention Harold Holt to Cronulla hooker Michael Ennis.
Boasting the most experienced roster in the NRL, mixed with the x-factor of 2015 rookie of the year Jack Bird and former Dally M Medallist Ben Barba, some good judges have dubbed the Sharks early title favourites.
In the Shire, long-suffering fans feel a sense of destiny ahead of the club’s milestone 50th season, desperately hoping the Sharks can break their infamous drought just as South Sydney and North Queensland scripted their own fairytales the past two years.
Ennis, though, is refusing to buy into the hype and insists the Sharks’ sole focus is firmly on their challenging season opener against the Cowboys in tropical Townsville on Saturday night.
“It’s that time of the year when everyone is picking their top eight, grand finalists and Dally M winners, but it’s crazy to look that far ahead or talk about anything we might achieve,” Ennis told AAP before flying out of Sydney on Friday.
“For the club it’s nice to have people talking us up but, as players, it’s too early in the season to starting talking about grand finals.
“We know we have a lot of hard work ahead of us and it all starts tomorrow against the world champions and NRL premiers.”
The last time the Sharks travelled to Townsville with premiership aspirations it all ended in despair with a crushing 39-0 loss to the Cowboys in last year’s semi-finals.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, somewhat more forthcoming about the Sharks’ 2016 ambitions, admits his side is returning to 1300SMILES Stadium this weekend hoping to right some wrongs.
“It was a tough way to finish last year,” Flanagan said on Friday.
“We’ve tried to put it behind us and move forward; it’s a new year. But a lot of those senior players have got a bit of a point to prove when we go up there tomorrow night.”
Former Cronulla coach Jack Gibson once famously said waiting for the Sharks to win an elusive premiership was akin to leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt.
While Flanagan isn’t quite ready to welcome home Australia’s lost prime minister, he isn’t afraid to outline the Sharks’ 2016 ambitions.
“We’re going into every game thinking we can win and we want to play semi-finals this year and we want to be in that top four,” he said.
“So our own expectations are very similar.”
But Flanagan is “under no illusions” about the difficulty of Cronulla’s round-one task against the Johnathan Thurston-led Cowboys in round one.
“They’re one to 17, I don’t how many grand final sides have started round one exactly the same way (the following year), so they’re going to be ready to go,” he said.