Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
Paul Gallen made history in leading the Blues to their first series win in eight long years last Wednesday night, and the Cronulla skipper has now turned his sights to avoiding a far less desirable entry into the record books.
Cronulla's two wins in 2014 stands on par with the same number of victories as NSW, that other outfit Gallen dons the sky blue for.
The fact the Blues' triumphs came in just two attempts, rather than the 13 the Sharks have had so far this year, is why Gallen is staring down the barrel of the club's first wooden spoon since 1969, and is determined to avoid capping the finest achievement of his career to date with the humiliation of finishing stone-cold, motherless last in the same season.
"I told all the boys that everyone has to have pride in their individual performances for the rest of the year," says Gallen.
"One thing we don't want to do is win this wooden spoon.
"That will be an embarrassment for myself and the club. I don't care how young the blokes are playing this year, I'm not looking at next year I'm playing for now and I don't win a wooden spoon.
"Hopefully we can all take a lot of pride in our performance and get away from that."
Gallen experienced the mother-all comedowns on Saturday night, returning from claiming man-of-the-match honours in the Blues historic 6-4 win over Queensland to be on the receiving end of a 26-0 drubbing at the hands of the Sea Eagles.
In the process the Sharks became the first side to be held scoreless for three consecutive games in rugby league's 106-year history. Their last points came through a 52nd minute try to Michael Gordon in Cronulla's loss to the Tigers way back in Round 10, and have since gone four hours of football against the Rabbitohs, Dragons and now Manly, failing to trouble the scorers.
The loss leaves the Sharks finals hopes all but dead in the water, a particularly hefty fall given their impressive showing in last year's finals series in which they pushed Manly all the way in a brutal semi-final before succumbing 24-18 to the eventual runners-up.
Cronulla's fall from grace in 2014 mirrors the last time they came closest to claiming the most undesirable piece of cutlery in the game, when they followed up their 2008 season - in which they were eliminated one game short of the decider by Melbourne - with a year that redefined the term annus horribilis.
The Sharks won just five games under Ricky Stuart back in 2009, and only managed to avoid finishing last because they had a superior points differential to the equally woeful Roosters.
That season, the club found itself lurching between off-field incidents and on-field turmoil, with the infamous Sharks group-sex scandal, Reni Maitua's ban for taking a steroid-like substance, Brett Seymour's sacking for repeated off-field indiscretions and CEO Tony Zappia's alleged physical assault of a female employee all rolled into a year thoroughly worth forgetting.
Veteran forward Anthony Tupou, one of just three players, alongside Gallen and outside back Nathan Stapleton, remaining from that fateful season, says the club is in far better shape in 2014 than it was when it came too close for comfort to the wooden spoon.
"I'd definitely rather be in this team here than the one back in 2009," Tupou told NRL.com.
"Everyone's got positive talk still, which is a mile away from 2009 and that's the best thing and why we can still turn it around.
"That was a bad year, but it was different circumstances. Boys were getting sacked, boys were up to no good, but this year it's been mostly bad luck with the injuries.
"Beau Ryan's had to retire, it's been bad luck and you can't really compare the two years, they're different circumstances."
With Gallen, fellow NSW representative Luke Lewis and attacking lynchpin Todd Carney all returning on Saturday night, the club's casualty ward is finally starting to empty out. Though Tupou admits that whatever 17 ends up on the pitch, they need to have more to show for their efforts than 268 pointless – some would argue in more way than one – minutes of football.
"We spoke about the guys coming back in soon and hopefully getting that full roster back," says Tupou, who believes a strong defence is the key to a better offence.
"But we have to pick it up anyway. We know we're going to get that roster back soon enough but we're not happy just having those guys back, we've got to aim up regardless and lift anyway.
"I think if we're defending better, you get in a good groove and you get on a roll.
"Then stuff like the final passes and the tries just comes; your attack comes off the back of your defence.
"If we're defending well and not letting in tries I just know that our attack will be on."