The challenge of Grand Final week
Senior Sharks players have cautioned their less experienced teammates to make sure they don't get swept up in the hysteria of Grand Final week – by being a touch selfish if that's what's required – as the hype down in the Shire reaches fever pitch.
A number of senior men – notably Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis – have elected to skip the glitzy Dally M Medal night to focus on their own preparation and while they are happy to absorb the wave of excitement from fans they know the week will pass by quickly.
Gallen has played countless big games in his long career without ever having experienced a Grand Final week before, while Ennis is heading into his third – though in two of those he was on the injured list with 2012 his only actual playing experience in a premiership decier.
"As great a week as it is, one thing I've learned is that at times you need to be a little selfish in certain areas just to make sure you get your preparation right," Ennis said.
"I'm 32 now and I've got to make sure I'm doing everything right this week. It's my last shot at it. It's a great opportunity and I just want to give myself the best preparation I can and freshen up for the game.
"I've been there many times and it's a really great night, but you just don't get these opportunities too often and I want to make the most of it."
Gallen's reasons for passing on Wednesday night are more specific – his troublesome back wouldn't benefit from a long evening sitting in a chair.
"It's the worst thing for my back at the moment is sitting down and driving," Gallen said.
"My missus is filthy at me to be honest, she got all dressed up [with] a beautiful dress!" he laughed.
"But sitting in a chair for four or five hours just wouldn't be fair on the team and wouldn't be the right thing to do as far as preparation for the game."
It's another example of players putting themselves first in order to put the team first and Gallen admitted he wouldn't have played last weekend against North Queensland if it had been a normal weekend game – though he stressed he was ok to take the field.
"If it was a round game I probably wouldn't have played on the weekend and got 100 per cent but we all know that's not the case and it's the way it is… There was no issue with me playing, I was fine to play and I'll be fine this week as well," he said.
Both senior men have been keeping an eye on the younger players to make sure they're coping ok and 2003 premiership winner Luke Lewis has also had a role to play, according to Gallen. The emphasis from both players was to treat the preparation as close to a normal game as possible.
"It's just about not burning your energy up before you get to that day," Gallen said.
"I know how to do that, I can do that well, I just had a talk to the boys about it as did Luke Lewis on the weekend. That's probably the main thing is trying to get it to those blokes who haven't played in a game like this.
"It's all about managing the week well, things like this (media opportunities), you don't want the boys to buy into the hype of it too much."
He admitted that would be tricky with the packed media day on Tuesday – attended by seemingly every rugby league reporter in Sydney – to be followed by an open fan day with thousands of Shire faithful rocking up to cheer on their team.
"When you're talking preparation for game it's not ideal but it's part of it," Gallen said.
"Thursday we've got to go to the Opera House and then to the Footy Show and I probably won't be home until 8.30 or 9 at night so it's not normal but it's just something you've got to deal with, you've just got to suck it up and get on with it. Relax and go with the flow."
Ennis suggested the younger players may be doing a better job of handling the pressure than the experienced ones.
"They don't play with that fear of expectation or failure I suppose that comes with being an experienced, or long-time player," Ennis said.
"They're just really excited about the week and the challenge of playing in a grand final... the atmosphere we had on Friday night and all the people in the community here with their flags and lining up for tickets. They're taking it all in."
Gallen stressed that despite the unusual build-up, the support from the fans was both welcomed and appreciated.
"It's been unreal, it really has. Just trying to go down to the mall to get some lunch, you just want to eat sometimes and everyone's high fiving you and getting a photo but it's been really good and it's really important to embrace that and thank them for that because they've been long time suffering Sharks fans as well that have never won a premiership so we have to accept that," he said.
"They've been unreal. Not just this year, we've had some tough times as you know and they've always turned up and supported us."