Sharks have 'right feel' says ET
Cronulla legend Andrew Ettingshausen came close a number of times to help deliver the Shire that elusive first premiership but he believes the current squad may just have the perfect mix to go all the way.
Ettingshausen is the latest subject in the New South Wales Rugby League's Turn Back Time series where on top of reflecting on his 27 matches for the Blues and record 328 games for the Sharks, 'ET' looks longingly ahead at what might be possible in 2016.
Currently outright competition leaders on 18 points – the Storm can draw level on Monday night with a win over the Eels – a Sharks team that narrowly missed out on a top four finish last year is positioning themselves well 12 months on.
They have the luxury of the bye this weekend and then two tough assignments against the Bulldogs and Cowboys before their second and final bye in Round 15.
Experienced heads in the forward pack such as Paul Gallen, Michael Ennis, Luke Lewis and Wade Graham are laying an excellent foundation but like the modern Maroons teams, Ettingshausen believes it is out wide where the Sharks have the ingredients to go all the way.
"This year they've got a really well-balanced team with a lot of strong forwards but creative backs and whilst forwards are known to win matches unless you've got an electric backline you've got no chance," Ettingshausen tells Turn Back Time host, former Origin teammate Steve 'Blocker' Roach'.
"You can see that every year with the Marrons. They've had such a dynamic backline and you can nullify the two forward packs but when that backline can do special things they're very hard to stop.
"A bit like this year with the Sharks. We've got some young guys in there with Valentine Holmes, Bird, Feki, a whole range of guys but we also have two quality halves and with that tough forward pack it's just got that right feel.
"Everyone's really excited this year but we've been excited before.
"Until you hold the trophy up no one's a certainty."
In 1988 the Sharks finished minor premiers before losing consecutive finals games to the Bulldogs (26-8) and Balmain (9-2) to fall short of the grand final and in 1999 as minor premiers again they failed to make the decider.
With Ettingshausen as captain the Sharks disposed of the Broncos 42-20 in the Qualifying Final before succumbing to Anthony Mundine and St George Illawarra in the Preliminary Final.
Including the 1997 Super League season they have finished runners up on three occasions and Ettingshausen said that a maiden premiership would bring the entire area to life.
"It's just that little thing on our back at the moment. I tried for 18 years to get the boys home with no luck," said Ettingshausen, who scored 165 tries to sit fourth on the all-time try-scorers list.
"We were always very close. We had some great players, a lot of talent but it's hard to win a grand final.
"We had some really good years in the late '80s and late '90s and we were in position both times, minor premiers and looking at hopefully winning the competition."