Rare air … Cronulla players were in awe of Nitro Circus yesterday at Allphones Arena. The Sharks have also risen to dizzying heights this year. Photo: Brendan Esposito
CRONULLA have endured 45 years of heartache, but prop Bryce Gibbs believes the wait for a premiership could end this season.
Even Melbourne No.1 Billy Slater considers the Sharks a genuine threat to the premiership, going as far as saying ''they've got more chance than us at the moment'' after Cronulla toppled his previously unbeaten Storm last Sunday. ''They are a great side,'' Slater said. ''They'll be there when the whips are cracking at the end of the year.''
Following the 12-10 win, made more impressive by the injury-enforced absence of skipper Paul Gallen, there is suddenly a belief at the Sharks that this year could be the drought-breaking season.
"I reckon we can. I said at the start of the year, 'I didn't just come here to make the semi-finals'" ... Bryce Gibbs. Photo: Getty Images
Gibbs, who has played only seven games for the Sharks since being forced out of the Wests Tigers at the end of last year, senses Cronulla are on the verge of doing ''something special'', and is convinced they can win the title this year.
''I reckon we can,'' Gibbs said. ''I said at the start of the year, 'I didn't just come here to make the semi-finals'. We're nearly there, but we still have a long way to go.
''Some of the players here at the start of the year said, 'Oh, I just want to make the semi-finals', but I said, 'No, I didn't come here to just make semi-finals, I want to come here and win the whole lot'. That's the plan.''
Not only have they never won a premiership since the club's introduction in 1967, but Cronulla fans are the longest suffering group in the competition, ahead of South Sydney, who last lifted the crown back in 1971.
After losing their opening two games of the year, the first in controversial circumstances against the Tigers in golden-point extra-time, the Sharks went on a six-game winning streak before succumbing at the hands of Souths in round nine.
But the biggest test of their premiership credentials was still to come, taking on the high-flying Storm without their leader last week.
Not even the most optimistic Sharks fan could have predicted what happened at Toyota Stadium last Sunday, as Cronulla stamped their authority on the competition, proving they're the real deal - even without Gallen.
''People were writing us off saying we couldn't win without Gal, so to do that was great,'' Gibbs said. ''But it's only one game, we have to back it up this week. It's hard to back it up another time because we were actually excited about playing without Gal last week. We wanted to proved to people we weren't a one-man team. This week will be tougher.''
Gibbs won a premiership with the Tigers in 2005. He admitted there is a similar feeling at the Sharks now, that there was at the Tigers when they last won the title, but believes there is a far greater level of depth at Flanagan's disposal which will aid them in their run towards September.
''In 2005, we had a good 19 or 20 players in the squad,'' Gibbs said. ''But here we've got a good 30 players. You've got Jon Green playing reserve grade, he won a comp with the Dragons. Everyone is just so hungry.''
Todd Carney is one of the main reasons behind Cronulla's transformation, and Slater, who was on the Kangaroo Tour with the former Sydney Roosters five-eighth in 2010, said he offers Cronulla a new dimension.
''He obviously takes the Sharks to another level,'' Slater said.
''They've always had that real toughness and grittiness about them, but he can certainly put points on as well.''