They may have spluttered into the NRL finals but Michael Ennis predicts Cronulla are about to find another gear and are poised to pull off a premiership boilover.
The Sharks must do it the hard way if they’re to be the first team in 24 years to win back-to-back titles after finishing fifth.
Not only is every game do-or-die, the black, white and blue are swimming against the tide of history with no team in the NRL era (since 1998) having come from outside the top four to win the grand final.
While Shane Flanagan’s men are widely considered one of the few teams capable of beating runaway pacesetters Melbourne, they must find form quickly.
The Sharks looked far from convincing in the closing rounds, winning just two of their last five, failing to win consecutive matches since round 21 and being pushed all the way by wooden-spooners Newcastle last week.
But Ennis, who was a part of the Sharks’ drought-breaking title win last year, said Jack Bird (shoulder) and Wade Graham (leg) shape as game-changers ahead of Sunday’s elimination final with North Queensland.
“Bird and Graham are huge inclusions,” Ennis said at the Fox League finals launch.
“Having those guys on the park, the Sharks play that semi-final-type football.
“I’ve got a feeling they are about to put the foot down. Sunday is huge in terms of building some real confidence.”
Also important, Ennis says, is the fact they have fallen on the softer side of the draw.
Should they beat the Cowboys, they would not be drawn to meet the Storm until the grand final – unless Parramatta can spring an upset against the minor premiers on Saturday.
“They’ve fallen on a good side of the draw. They are healthy. They get Bird and Graham back, they play the Cowboys at home,” Ennis said.
“We saw what that did for the Sharks last year. The Cowboys are depleted. They’ve been gallant with the injuries they’ve faced but Paul Green has done a tremendous job, I would imagine the Sharks would win that.
“Then they will face the loser of the Melbourne and Parramatta game and they have had success against both those sides in the regular season.
“I certainly think with their experience that they are well in contention to go back-to-back. “