Echoes of 2005 Tigers in 2016 Sharks
Sharks veteran Chris Heighington has drawn comparisons between Cronulla's current campaign and the Wests Tigers' premiership win of 2005.
The Tigers shocked the rugby league world 11 years ago when they beat North Queensland 30-16 in a grand final most remembered for Benji Marshall's flick pass try assist to winger Pat Richards.
Heighington was just 23 at the time and was joined in that Tigers side by fellow youngsters Liam Fulton, Bryce Gibbs and Dene Halatau, just as the current Sharks outfit boasts young guns Valentine Holmes, Jack Bird and Chad Townsend.
Led by the likes of veterans Mark O'Neill, Brett Hodgson and John Skandalis all those years ago, Heighington now finds himself one of several senior men at the Sharks.
Like Cronulla at the end of this season, the Tigers suffered a few late losses in the 2005 regular season after a lengthy winning run but were able to respond with a huge 50-6 qualifying final win over the Cowboys in week one of the finals.
Heighington is hoping for a similar reaction from the Sharks this weekend after winning just one of their past six games.
"I do see that there are some good senior players here and some good young kids coming through like back when we were playing at the Tigers," Heighington said.
"I see a lot of confidence in the young kids but it's a different game nowadays. We had a team which changed the game a bit.
"There were no dominant tackles, plus blokes like Benji Marshall and Brett Hodgson were in red hot form alongside Scott Prince and Robbie Farah. But there's a few similar areas."
Heighington believes the Sharks' can bounce back from their recent struggles in time for a big end to the season as they chase a highly-sought path straight to week three of the finals.
"It's a different competition now. You have to lose footy games along the way and we have done that. Now it's time to rediscover our form and have a real crack in Canberra," he said.
"Those losses put your season into perspective. During a period when you're winning, you're the hunted. Teams come out and play their best to try and knock you off.
"We haven't been at our best for six weeks and we're not going to lie about it but we have an opportunity now though to get back to our best in the finals."
Heighington lasted just eight minutes last weekend against the Storm before being concussed, but said there were no doubts of his availability this week.
"I'm good to go," he said. "I've passed all the tests so far though I have a few more to do. But I'm feeling 100 per cent now."
What hasn't been sorted out yet is the 34-year-old's future beyond this season.
"Hopefully I can work something out over the next few weeks but I haven't sorted anything yet," Heighington said.
"I'm keen to go around again and keen to keep playing. Hopefully it's here but if not we'll have to wait and see."
Game on. Data off.
Stream every NRL game, including finals, live and data free with a 2016 Footy Pass, exclusive to Telstra mobile.
Watch all the NRL action live on your compatible tablet or mobile device with data-free streaming on your Telstra mobile plan.
For use in Australia only.