Sharks set sights on minor premiership
They are the hunted whose shot at history has now eluded them but Sharks coach Shane Flanagan says the team's focus remains very much on finishing the regular season at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder and winning the club's third minor premiership.
An 18-all draw with the Titans on Monday night meant that Cronulla's winning streak was brought to an end at 15 games and ensured that the Roosters' record of 19 wins in succession in one season in 1975 remained untouched for a further 12 months.
The one competition point that the Sharks did earn pushed them ahead of Melbourne to be leading the competition through 21 rounds and sets up the tantalising prospect of the two teams playing off for the JJ Giltinan Shield in Melbourne in Round 26.
There is now a seven-point gap between the second-placed Storm and third-placed Raiders and while a top-two finish remains the primary objective Flanagan said that the team has their sights very much on being on top of the table at the end of 26 rounds.
"We want to be No.1 at the end of the season," Flanagan said.
"Obviously one and two are really important, you get a home semi so it's crucial, top four is another bonus where you're guaranteed to week two. All those little things are all stepping stones and we're working hard towards that.
"If we're lucky enough to achieve becoming No.1 we'll be really pleased, especially for the club's perspective.
"To win the minor premiership is a great achievement for all the players. To go through the whole 26 rounds and be leading the competition, that's recognition of the playing group of a job well done."
A Monday night assignment against a resurgent Titans team was seen as a danger game for the Sharks who had notched comfortable wins against the Knights, Roosters and Panthers in their previous three games.
With each win came further talk of just where the winning streak would end but back-rower Wade Graham said the streak itself was never a talking point amongst the playing group.
"There's no complacency within the group," Graham told NRL.com.
"There's a lot of experience and we know that every game is a contest and we've got to keep improving towards the back-end of the year if we want to give ourselves an opportunity to play in the big one.
"To be honest, the streak's never really been in the conversation with the playing group. The confidence grows within the group after each win but we've got a lot of players who have played a lot of games and with a lot of experience.
"I've been playing for eight or nine years now and I've never had an easy game in the NRL.
"When you've been playing long enough you just know that every game every week is a battle and you've got to be up for it every week."
Cronulla captain Paul Gallen said the performance of the Titans on Monday night was indicative of opposition teams wanting to claim the scalp of the team at the top of the ladder and echoed Graham's thoughts that motivation within the team has never waned throughout the 15-game winning run.
"That's what happens when you're at the top of the ladder, everyone's going to lift to play you and try and beat you every single week," Gallen said.
"When you're at the top of the tree everyone's trying to bring you down. We know that's where we are and everyone's going to lift to play us every single week and they did tonight.
"We're motivated every week. We're not going into any game not to win. I'm a bit over hearing about this 'We've got to lose one'. There's never been a footy team go out on the field not to win.
"We're just out there to play our game every week and get a win and if we finish first that's what we want to do. If we don't, we finish wherever we finish."