As he prepares for his second season at Cronulla, Sharks back rower Chris Heighington says he has seen the side learn self-belief in the short time he's been there.
The Sharks finished fifth in 2013 despite having to deal with significant off-field distractions around the ASADA investigation, after finishing seventh in 2012 and 13th in 2011. They were only knocked out by eventual grand finalists Manly in a narrow 24-18 semi-final game at Brookvale Oval.
"[We were] one off a grand final qualifier so it was a pretty good year and we were probably pretty unlucky to lose that game," Heighington told NRL.com at the end of Cronulla's first week back in training last week.
"It came down to a few close calls and it was real close to the end. I think we know what it takes to get into a grand final now and everyone realises we can go alright," he said.
"When I first came here everyone was down on confidence and didn't know what their own ability was. We've worked on that here and hopefully we can build on that in the next year."
The 30-year-old veteran of 227 first-grade games for Wests and Cronulla looked as sharp as anyone in the side's first week back at training, where coach Shane Flanagan was encouraged by what he saw.
On the coach's message to the side, Heighington said Flanagan is looking for "a real good base going into Christmas."
"It's six weeks... if you're one of the senior players [he wants us to] set a good standard, if you're one of the younger players show some enthusiasm. So this week's been real good," he said.
Heighington said he was pleased to welcome former Tigers teammate Blake Ayshford to the Shire in 2014, where he will join a raft of ex-Tigers including Andrew Fifita, Bryce Gibbs and Beau Ryan.
"With Blake coming over, he's a real talented player and they maybe weren't getting the best out of him in the year just gone. Hopefully Flanno can do that and he's fit, he's training well and ready to rumble."
With plenty of mates still at the Wests Tigers club, Heighington said it is always a game always relished.
"I played Tigers for 10 years... I still get on with heaps of them, lots of real good mates," he said. "I look forward to playing my mates so I always look forward to playing that game."