Fans are Sharks' secret weapon: Buderus
They have had to wait longer than any other fan base in the National Rugby League to taste premiership success and Newcastle legend Danny Buderus believes the Cronulla-Sutherland faithful have a key role to play in getting the Sharks across the line on Sunday.
Appearing in their fourth first grade grand final in what is their 50th season there is a sense of destiny around what the Sharks are trying to achieve, much in the same vein that the Rabbitohs and Cowboys accomplished in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Buderus made his debut in the 1997 ARL season and saw first-hand the outpouring of emotion amongst Novocastrians when the team bus drove back up the F3 to Newcastle with the club's first premiership in their possession and senses something similar building in the Shire in grand final week.
After more than 36,000 people witnessed their safe passage through the preliminary final to the Telstra Premiership decider thousands more converged for Cronulla's fan day on Tuesday and Buderus is adamant they will play their part come Sunday.
"The Sharks already look as though they're focused on their vision of how the game will go and what the trophy celebration will look like," Buderus writes in the Grand Final souvenir edition of Big League.
"The 'never been done before' mindset they have is so strong and their motivation to do it for their fans could be the difference in this battle.
"At the start of this week Sharks coach Shane Flanagan urged his players to embrace the busy week because 14 other teams would love to be in their position. Keeping the week relaxed, fun, short and sharp at training is the key.
"You have your fans to enjoy the achievement with early in the week, to help you soak up the meaning of it all.
"In 80 minutes you can make so many people happy by just going out and doing what you do week in and week out, so during other commitments you can relax and enjoy each other's company, which makes the whole experience even more memorable."
Buderus's sole grand final victory in the NRL came in 2001 when he helped to engineer Newcastle's shock win over a dominant Parramatta team and he sees similarities with what Cronulla's squad of 2016 are now going through.
Whether larrikin five-eighth James Maloney can play the role of Newcastle jokester Mark Hughes though remains to be seen.
"Being involved in Newcastle's 2001 premiership, our week looked pretty much like Cronulla's. It's a busy week, but there comes a time when you're face-to-face with the opposition and you can get a real sense about how they're feeling," Buderus writes.
"After the grand final breakfast in 2001 we all picked up on how much pressure Parramatta were feeling – at least that's what we told ourselves. It made us relax and got us into a fun frame of mind.
"I remember attending a press conference after the breakfast and our coach Michael Hagan, Andrew Johns and Bill Peden were all getting probed by the journos about the preparation and nerves.
"A muffled voice from the back of the room piped up and asked, 'Hey 'Hages', is it true earlier in the year you had concerns about making 'Joey' captain and you were leaning towards Mark Hughes?' "Everyone spun around to see the kid from Kurri Kurri smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Hages's response was 'Absolutely no chance'.
"It provided a little snapshot into how we were feeling about our grand final week. The Sharks might need their own Mark Hughes in camp to take the pressure off and help the group relax – guys like Chris Heighington or James Maloney would fit the bill."
The Grand Final souvenir issue of Big League is on sale now at newsagents and supermarkets and at ANZ Stadium on Sunday. Digital version available through www.zinio.com, the Apple iTunes Store and Google Play.
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