In what will be Cronulla's first full-competition grand final since 1978, one Shark who will be entering his third decider in six years says he will be able to share learnings from both winning and losing experiences with his teammates.
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Five-eighth James Maloney won the 2013 title with the Roosters, having played in a losing decider with the Warriors in 2011, and says both experiences taught him some dos and don'ts that he will be able to pass on this week.
Maloney is far from the only Shark with grand final memories – Ben Barba and Michael Ennis lost one with Canterbury in 2012 while Luke Lewis (Penrith 2003), Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers 2005) and Matt Prior (Dragons, 2010) all have Telstra Premiership rings.
But the State of Origin pivot will be the only Shark on Sunday to have both won and lost on the first weekend in October, while some senior players – led by Paul Gallen but also including Jason Bukuya, Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita, Gerard Beale and Ricky Leutele – will be playing their first grand finals.
Speaking after his team's thumping 32-20 win over the Cowboys in Friday night's preliminary final, Maloney said he did compare the 2011 and 2013 experiences with a view to how they could come in handy this week.
"I spoke to a few guys around the club about things that I thought we didn't handle as well as we could have at the Warriors," Maloney said.
"Obviously there are different memories the two years and different results so hopefully you learn from that and we make sure we put ourselves in a position where we hit Sunday in the best possible shape to play the best 80 minutes of our year."
It's not just deciders – Maloney has experienced finals campaigns in five of his past six seasons and in every one of those he has got to at least the penultimate match, with plenty of gritty wins along the way.
Maloney has played a whopping 16 finals matches between 2011 and now, with nine wins and seven losses.
"You've got to defend well in grand finals. It's two of the best sides and it's hard to score points," Maloney reflected.
"The worse you defend, you end up chasing points early so you need to make your 'D'. You need to make sure when you're on the back foot and things are going against you, you hold your line and you don't concede points and that allows you a bit of time and it keeps you composed with your attack."
As soon as one side starts leaking points the game changes, Maloney added.
"If you defend well it gives you composure in your attack. We've got plenty of strike here," he said.
A feature of Cronulla's win over the Cowboys was the potent left-edge combination between Maloney and Wade Graham, which frequently threatened to break the Cowboys apart, and Graham had plenty of praise for the 30-year-old playmaker.
"He's a great player; he drives Flanno [coach Shane Flanagan] up the wall sometimes with how relaxed he is but I kind of like it," Graham said.
"We're the same sort of type so we get on well over on the left there. He's certainly a great player and he was brilliant in that second half, absolutely brilliant.
"Me and Jimmy get along well; surprisingly we don't talk about footy a whole lot. We both like to keep our eyes up and play footy and see what's in front so we always bounce ideas off each other. It came together good [on Friday]."
When it comes to his big-game experience, one player Maloney wasn't expecting to be in need of advice was Sharks skipper Paul Gallen ahead of his first decider.
"He'll be good, like anyone else. It will be special for him because he's gone a long time and hasn't been able to [play in one yet]," Maloney said.
"He's finally got an opportunity and the thing is now you need to take the opportunity because there's no point going to grand finals if you're losing because it's not much fun at all.
"The feeling at the end of 80 minutes from winning to losing is polar opposites and I know which one you'd rather have."
Video courtesy of sharks.com.au
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