Cronulla fullback Ben Barba is hoping fans of the eight Sydney-based NRL teams now eliminated from this year's competition can embrace the final remaining Sydney club in contention when Cronulla host North Queensland at Allianz Stadium this Friday night.
Penrith's semi-final loss to Canberra ensured the nation's capital along with Townsville and Melbourne were the remaining sides along with Cronulla and Barba hopes for a strong Sydney crowd to be Cronulla's 18th man on Friday.
"Hopefully Allianz is packed with black, white and blue on Friday. They're sort of our 18th man," Barba said this week.
"Considering too we're the only Sydney team left in the competition is pretty special so hopefully everyone gets behind us here and supports the Sharks and really gets behind us."
Sharks players are hoping for a different experience to when their season was ended by the Cowboys in a 39-0 landslide in Townsville in last year's finals series.
The ledger is one apiece since then with Cronulla's 13-10 home win in Round 14 squaring up their 20-14 Round 1 loss in Townsville.
"You take the good things out of when you meet them and try and reflect on what you did to contain them," Barba said.
"We'll have our videos and such during the week and see what we did good and see what we can't do and hopefully get it right on Friday.
"We can definitely take some confidence out of what we did here (at Southern Cross Group Stadium in Round 14); it was probably one of our better performances during the year.
"We seem to do it against the really good sides here, we played Melbourne Storm here earlier in the year and did a really good job on them (a 14-6 win in Round 4). If we play anything like we did during the year against the Cowboys I'm sure we'll be going all right."
Much has been made of Barba's return to form at fullback in 2016, and despite a quiet few weeks in his team's mini slump he remains one of his team's key threats. He credited hard work and happiness off the field for results on it.
"It's been really enjoyable. I could say it was easy but look, it was tough during some times over the last few years," Barba said.
"But I'm really glad I've stuck through it and I've worked hard with the people here at the football club, the coaches, the trainers, the physios, the players.
"I'm trying to get the little things right and I think it's really helped me this year and allowed me to enjoy my football again and not worry about what's going on outside of football and it's allowed me to do what I did."
His efforts this year also drew praise from Sharks back-rower Wade Graham.
"When he's on he's one of the best players in the NRL," Graham told NRL.com.
"He's got everything; he's got the speed and the skill out the back of those shapes to really make or break those shapes.
"He's been outstanding for us this year and it's a credit to himself, he really knuckled down and worked hard and set some personal goals that he's been striving hard to reach and the benefits have shown on the field."
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