Positive signs for Sharks' future
Lightning has now officially struck the same place not twice, but thrice this NRL season. And while the Sharks eventually went down 20-19 against the Cowboys in Townsville, there was no shortage of heroics from the Shiremen.
No one had given them hope going into the Monday night fixture, and their backs were against the wall less than two minutes in when Jason Taumalolo crashed over to put first points on the board.
Since that moment, it was probably hard to tell which side had been given the 30.5-point handicap before kick-off with the Sharks showing the kind of desperation that had interim coach James Shepherd looking positively toward the future.
"That's the character at the place. For what the club's gone through over the last two years and the challenges and the distractions, they just keep turning up," he said post-game.
"Massive effort from our boys. Inexperienced team, a little bit understrengthed and obviously some changes in personnel this week through injury and suspension but again they just keep turning up. They just keep working for each other. They were a tight group today and have been a real good group all week so yeah, magnificent effort from them.
"Massive challenge there [going against the Cowboys' forward pack]... they've obviously played Test footy and State of Origin footy and they are big bodies and for us to match that and sometimes work them over and get them tired. I thought our middle, again, who are rookies, were fantastic."
While it could have been easy to buy in to the hype after conceding a try within the first 90 seconds, Shepherd said he had always kept calm and considered his side a shot.
"It wasn't 'here we go again'. We've got 78 minutes to play a footy game so we've just got to get back on track and that's what we did," he said.
That was the moment veteran and stand-in captain Jeff Robson took his group aside.
"I just said to the boys, 'Just keep wrestling, and defending like we did in those first four or five tackles and we can start again and just go from there'. I was really proud of their effort. We knew they were going to come at us through the middle and I thought our young boys really stood up."
Despite delivering the right words when his fledgling side needed it most on Monday, Robson has ruled out a push for more of a leadership role next season, saying there is plenty of leadership in suspended duo Paul Gallen and Wade Graham.
Since being lumped with captaincy due to the ASADA bans, Robson told of the current leadership-by-committee situation between himself, Michael Gordon and Chris Heighington, with a focus toward mentoring and developing the young talent they are currently baby-sitting.
"Probably the senior players left over at the club, we just set out and said that we wanted to play some consistent footy and really help these young guys that are coming through because that's their dream to come through and play NRL and to come through with a lot of enthusiasm and played some great footy."