Sharks' pride in character of youngsters
A hugely tense and energy-sapping Four Nations final, where a resolute and inexperienced Sharks outfit showed unbelievable defensive resolve to hold their own set after set for the better part of the 10 minutes of golden try extra time, had drawn the praise of the club's captain and coach.
The match was also remarkable for a high-pressure sideline drop-goal conversion from youngster Valentine Holmes to level the scores at the final buzzer to send the game the extra time, as well as a sixth-straight high-quality game from young recruit Jack Bird.
"I thought we showed plenty of character, a couple of games we chased back, we had a couple of little occasions in every game where there was a super effort, defended our try line for I don't know how many sets, dropped it out and dropped it out," Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said after the loss.
He said the players had already received calls and messages of support from the senior players such as Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis.
One of those calls, from Ennis, was for unlucky youngster Nu Brown who missed the final after rupturing an ACL in the semi against the Roosters and will miss four or five months of football. He will have for surgery early in the week after the team arrives home.
Flanagan said while every coach wanted to get on the plane home with no injured players, the Nines is "not a Mickey Mouse tournament", with every side there to win. He stressed the Nines wasn't the cause of the injury, saying it could have happened in training or at a trial.
Of Holmes, Flanagan said it was great to have such a talented fullback on the roster but said Holmes would have to continue to bide his time behind senior custodian Michael Gordon.
Flanagan added it was great for Holmes' development to learn from such a good fullback, and suggested the club may look at rotating the two at the back the way the Roosters did last season with Anthony Minichiello and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Captain Wade Graham, who was a late call-up to the tournament when originally-named skipper Luke Lewis discovered at training he wasn't ready for the rigours of a frenetic weekend of Nines, said the side's efforts were a positive sign at the start of a new season after a horror 18 months.
"As a club it's a good thing, success is always good, it got us of to good start. Especially for our team, we had a lot of young guys, they can only get confidence playing at this level," Graham said.
He singled out Jack Bird, who had a massive tournament, scoring four tries – including one in the final.
Bird has now played against internationals such as Issac Luke and Dylan Walker as well as tournament MVP Adam Reynolds, and gained confidence knowing he can mix it with the best, Graham said.
He had little sympathy for the club's original Nines skipper Luke Lewis, though, when asked whether he would be donating any of his share of the prize money.
"[Lewis] will be filthy he didn't come over!" Graham laughed. "Lukey won't be getting a cent of my stuff."