Having watched his former club slowly lose its way during his extended eight-year absence, veteran Cronulla centre Colin Best believes the Sharks’ remarkable resurgence this season is largely due to a return to good old ‘Shire values’.
A local junior who debuted for the Sharks in 1998 and played 81 games for the club over five seasons before being told to look elsewhere in 2003, Best played in four consecutive finals series for Cronulla between 1999-2002 and was a member of the last Sharks side to win six games in a row way back in 2002.
One of a number of long-serving locals to fall out with the club during Chris Anderson’s brief reign in 2002-03, Best believes the Sharks had forgotten what they stood for during the sorry years of the mid-to-late 1990s. But with Cronulla sitting in third spot on the NRL ladder following their sixth successive win last weekend, the 33-year-old says their current success has rekindled memories of the good old days.
“It is very similar,” he told NRL.com ahead of Monday night’s clash with South Sydney. “Back then it was a confident club and even though we didn’t win any comps, we had that good little era with some pretty good teams. We were always a winning team and were always around that top four. There was a confidence – we knew our home ground and were always difficult to beat at Shark Park.
“I think that slowly we’re getting that feeling back now, that we can beat anyone, and teams coming to our home ground know they have to play really well.
“Also, through the grades there are some local juniors starting to come through again. You’ve got guys like Stewart Mills and Chad Townsend. Even guys that have played at the club before and have come back again like Isaac De Gois and Benny Ross… it’s getting that feeling of people being here that love the club and want to play for the club.
“The local fans and residents… they love that – and when they see local juniors they can relate to the team. That helps with filling the stands as well.”
Best, who is in rousing form and leads all centres in the NRL for try assists with seven so far, said local juniors brought a unique passion to the Sharks that was difficult for others to replicate. He admitted it was his ongoing love of the club that ultimately saw him return home last season.
“It’s why I wanted to come back – I wanted it to become a winning club again,” he explained.
“I’m a local junior so obviously this club is close to my heart. I want it to do well.
“It’s great just being around the area. The area has a buzz about it at the moment.
“Two years ago when they gave me the opportunity to come back here I jumped at it and I feel very fortunate that I will see out my career here. I started my career and wanted to play my whole career here but it didn’t work out that way. I’m just grateful that I have the opportunity to finish off here and hopefully finish with a bang.”
While many recognised the potential within the Sharks squad this season – particularly following the arrival of star five-eighth Todd Carney – their rapid rise towards the top of the ladder has come as somewhat of a surprise.
Not for Best.
The veteran speedster was disappointed to see the Sharks miss the finals last season after losing their last eight games but said he knew something big was brewing from the moment he returned to pre-season training.
“I knew right from the start of the year that we had a good squad and I knew that really it was just getting us to gel together,” he said. “I don’t think we have quite yet, we’ve still got a little bit to come with that, but it’s fantastic that we’ve been getting the results.
“Obviously you work pretty hard over the off-season and you want those fruits to bear, so we’re really happy with how we’re going at the moment. It’s a good feeling.”
Despite the promise of good times ahead, Best’s own future remains somewhat clouded.
The Sharks have hinted that they are keen to resign him on a new one-year deal for 2013 but Best, the second oldest backline player running around in the NRL (Raider Shaun Berrigan is two weeks older) and the third oldest overall behind Petero Civoniceva, is yet to decide whether to play on or call it quits at the end of the current season.
“My body is feeling pretty good but I’ve been in the game a long time,” he said. “Mentally am I prepared to go around again?
“I’m sort of undecided whether I’m going to play another year here or retire. I guess I’ll have to make a decision in the next month or so.
“If we have a good season and it finishes how I want it to, I’ll be satisfied with that but there is a bit to think about.”