Rejuvenated prop Ben Ross has vowed to repay Sharks fans for their patience after his injury-plagued former stint with the club resulted in him sitting out the final year of his lucrative four-season contract – and says a return to playing State of Origin for Queensland is his ultimate goal.
Also, the 110-kilogram behemoth revealed one of the triggers for his decision to return to the Shire was the re-signing of former Sharks hooker Isaac De Gois, who Ross credits as being a major influence on his best form on the football field.
“Yeah – I enjoyed my time at Souths but I sort of feel like I owe something to Cronulla,” Ross told NRL.com. “I was here for four years and was injured for two of them, so coming back I think I need to prove something to the fans.
“To be back with the likes of (new players Andrew Fifita and Bryce Gibbs) and ‘Gall’ and Jeremy Smith… it’s such a great pack and I’m just really excited about the year ahead.”
Ross joined Cronulla on a four-year contract in 2006 but missed most of his first season with the Sharks after picking up a knee injury early in the competition rounds. He was then sidelined for the whole of 2009 after suffering a serious neck injury that also prevented him taking the field in his first year at South Sydney in 2010, before a doctor’s clearance saw him return to rugby league with a rousing full season in 2011.
Ross said he was over the moon to have played as many games as he did in 2011, although he deflected any suggestion he had played a pivotal role at Redfern after ironically a host of other forwards, including Roy Asotasi, Luke Stuart and Sam Burgess, were struck down with injuries.
“With all the injuries we copped I think we went really well,” Ross said. “Personally I only expected to play 10 games and to get out 27 straight (including trials)… I was pretty happy.
“I don’t know if I held the forward pack together – that was Mick Crocker and a few others as well – but I’m very excited about how I played and what potential I can get back to… hopefully I can bring back some good form here at the Sharks.”
Ross played six games for Queensland in 2004-’05 and says the thought of pulling on a Maroon jersey again helps his motivation after such a long period on the sidelines.
“I’ve always promised my sister that I’ll let her watch me play Origin – she never got to see me the last time,” the 31-year-old said. “Yeah, that’s a big goal of mine… first of all try to make the starting side here and then improve from there.
“I’ve been working very hard outside of footy with extra fitness and skills and all that sort of thing with the coaches here… just that little bit of extra stuff I suppose I need to do being that much older than the other guys… just to get back to my old form.”
On De Gois, Ross said: “I got to play with Isaac for two years and… you talk about reasons for coming back: I really liked playing with Isaac here – I think he brought out some of my best football.
“He’s got that speed and he’s got that skill and him being back here gives us that extra string to our bow, I guess. That attacking brilliance he has out of dummy-half… yeah, it’s really exciting to have him back.”
Ross revealed Sharks coach Shane Flanagan wanted the Cronulla pack to make a statement in 2012 as they attempted a return to the top eight.
“That physical dominance the Sharks are always known for… I know the Sharks – playing for them and playing against them – they’re always good at getting out of their own 50 (metres) and I think we’ve just got to combine that with all the new fellas and lead with a dominance so our backs like Todd Carney and Wade Graham can really dominate,” he said.
He said helping the Sharks back to semi-finals football meant “everything” to him.
“The last time I played for the Sharks we actually made it to the game before the grand final (preliminary finalists in 2008) so it’s something I think the Sharks themselves need to do – and to get there as part of that team would be great.”
Ross said former Wests Tigers duo and new team-mates Andrew Fifita and Bryce Gibbs had settled in well in the Shire – but added renowned practical joker Gibbs had already left more than a few ‘calling cards’.
“Yeah, I walked in the other day and my locker was liquid-nailed closed and boots nailed down!” he said. “He’s good – they’ve both fitted in really well.
“(Andrew) Fifita, he’s very loud, and the boys give it to him a bit but it’s a good team environment here… everyone’s a mate and it makes team harmony a lot better when you all can have a laugh and a joke, and we’ll see how that combines out on the field.”