Gallen gives motor to Cronulla's straight six
Slice through … Sharks captain Paul Gallen splits the Canberra defence. Photo: Getty Images
Who would have thought ''up, up Cronulla'' actually had some meaning? A sixth consecutive win for the Sharks, the first time they have achieved that feat in a decade, has them entrenched in the top four - and dreaming of finishing the season there. How did it come to this?
Well, yesterday is a good start. The Sharks continued their streak with a relatively comfortable victory over the Raiders at Canberra Stadium. Their results show how far they have come but you don't have to watch them long to see it in their play; five-eighth Todd Carney sliced and Paul Gallen diced, and unheralded players look like gamebreakers. Gallen feels young again - with good reason; his beloved side has not been on a run like this since 2002.
''It doesn't feel like that long ago,'' Gallen said. ''I don't feel that old. I was only 20 years old back then, and it was my first real year in first grade. I've said to [coach] Shane [Flanagan]: 'We've got to drum into these young blokes that opportunities like this year don't come around all the time.' We have to make the most of it.''
It's why the Sharks, in trying to go up rather than down, are only looking forward.
''We spoke the other day about five in a row, and how that was gone,'' Gallen said. ''It's time to start our new block now. It doesn't matter that we've won six in a row.
''Every week's a new week, and a new opportunity to get a win.''
It's clearly working. ''Cronulla'' and ''good side to watch'' have rarely appeared in the same postcode, let alone paragraph, but the Sharks are playing the sort of football which not only wins games but also fans.
So what's changed? Well, it's not the coach, according to the coach.
''I'm not coaching any different,'' Flanagan said. ''It's just the players that are doing the job.''
Gallen concurred, notwithstanding the influence of the coach: ''It's the players. With all due respect, the players that were here the last couple of years … we just didn't have a real quality roster.''
The Sharks now sit in third spot, behind Melbourne and Brisbane. Flanagan maintained those teams were still the benchmarks of the premiership, however Canberra prop David Shillington, who has now played all three of those sides, said his opponents yesterday were ''right up there''.
''Six in a row is a credit to how they're playing,'' Shillington said.
The Raiders are always difficult to beat at home, and they stayed in the contest as long as they could, but their own mistakes were costly. Twice in the first half, they came up with regulation forward passes; the second gave the Sharks their fourth try of the half. It was their best of the match; Gallen's short ball put Jeremy Smith through a yawning gap, and the back-rower sent John Morris over.
The Sharks' other four tries of the half were more regulation, but well executed; Carney's kick for Ben Pomeroy, Colin Best's neat ball to John Williams, Jeff Robson's grubber for Jayson Bukuya, and Carney's high kick - much like the first - for his winger Stewart Mills. They all showed a team high in confidence and ability.
The result was never really in doubt from then on. But the Sharks' ability to continue to heap pressure on their opponents, when the match was always theirs, will impress Flanagan.
To a point. ''I was probably a little bit disappointed … I thought the score should have been 50-12,'' Flanagan said.
Forty-four points and a win might ordinarily be enough for a parade down Cronulla Street. But not this year. Onwards and upwards.