Four months after their fairytale NRL grand final triumph Cronulla are out to prove they’re the No.
1 club side in the world.
The Sharks take on Wigan in the early hours of Monday morning (AEDT) in the World Club Challenge decider at DW Stadium in front what is expected to be a crowd of 25,000.
Coach Shane Flanagan is without premiership-winning backs Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki, who are injured, and also has a makeshift fullback in Gerard Beale due to Ben Barba’s exit from the NRL to French rugby.
There is also the huge void at hooker left by Michael Ennis’ retirement with rookie rake Jayden Brailey and Fa’amanu Brown to split the dummy-half duties.
But the core of the side that beat Melbourne 14-12 to end the club’s 49-year wait for a premiership will run out against the Super League champions.
A repeat of the one-sided win for North Queensland over Leeds last year will give further ammunition to critics of the tournament but Flanagan believes there should be a place for the World Club Series regardless of the scoreline on Sunday.
However, he warned that his side are as focused on beating the Warriors as they were on winning the grand final.
“Part of winning the NRL premiership is that you come over here and play and in the World Club Challenge to be the best club side in the world,” Flanagan told AAP.
“We’re really looking forward to it and really looking forward to playing in this game and loving being here.”
The transformation of the Sharks since Flanagan took over from Ricky Stuart in 2010 has been far from smooth with the shadow of the ASADA investigation that led to the coach being suspended for 12 months in 2013 almost ripping the club apart.
But the club’s board stood by Flanagan, who was allowed to return for the start of the 2015 season, and they were rewarded for their loyalty with a long-awaited maiden premiership.
Although he is reluctant to revisit his exile from the game, the 51-year-old is immensely proud of the way the club has recovered from its lowest ebb to become NRL premiers.
“The club has come a long way, we have been in the semi-finals every year bar one, and that was in my first year,” Flanagan said.
“We’re a competitive club and we play semi-finals year in, year out and if you do that you give yourself the chance to play in a grand final.
“That is where I want this club to be. We always thought we could get there, but there is not use talking about it, you have to show you can win these big games.
“WInning the comp has changed our club. The way we act and the way we think.
“We class ourselves as a leader in the NRL and we’ve got to keep proving that. But it is a challenge.”