Cronulla captain Paul Gallen says that while his team may not have quite the same firepower this year without departed stars Ben Barba and Mick Ennis, he is not at all surprised to see the Sharks back up their 2016 premiership with another finals appearance this year.
Plenty of pundits expected the Sharks to drop away sharply in 2017 with a premiership hangover combined with the loss of two of the four members of their spine in fullback Barba and hooker Ennis.
However Shane Flanagan's men have defied those predictions with their senior players such as Gallen, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham, James Maloney and Andrew Fifita leading the way and rookie hooker Jayden Brailey surpassing expectations to impressively cover for the loss of Ennis.
"I think we probably are probably aren't quite as potent as last year," Gallen conceded at the NRL Telstra Premiership captains' call at ANZ Stadium on Monday.
"We had Benny Barba at the back who had a phenomenal ability to set up tries and score them so probably not quite as potent there but as far as Mick goes, it's probably taken three players to replace him but I think we've replaced him!"
 Telstra Premiership: Sharks vs Cowboys
Along with Brailey, the Sharks have also used James Segeyaro, Dan Mortimer and Nu Brown at times at hooker to effectively bridge the sizeable gap left by Ennis while Valentine Holmes has transitioned from wing to fullback.
"People want to keep comparing us to last year but we're not the same team as last year, we're a different side and I think we're finally realising that now," Gallen added.
"I'm not surprised at all where we're at. We've got a lot of good players all over the park, a lot of experienced players who know how to get the job done at this level at this time of year.
"We're probably a little bit disappointed we're not in the top four though it is irrelevant now but I'm not shocked at all where we are."
The Sharks' fifth-place finish sets up a mouth-watering elimination final this Sunday against the Cowboys, in what is emerging as one of the genuine NRL rivalries. The two clubs between them have taken home the past two premierships and have faced off in a sudden-death final in three of the past four finals series.
While the injury-ravaged Cowboys this year have limped into the final, waiting on results in the final round, they are slowly getting injured troops back. Gallen said that even without long-term absentees Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott the team has proven they are still a force.
"They've got a lot of Origin players and rep players in their side. Jason Taumalolo's probably the best forward in the game and it's going to be a tough game for us," he said.
The Sharks skipper backed his team's ability to win tough or win ugly when it counted in the big games.
"That's what it's all about, it's about the result, it's about getting the win," he said.
"We won 15 games this year which is not bad at all so it's do or die for us now. That's the attitude we would have had for every game anyway.
"This game is the most important game for our year coming up this week and as I said against a Cowboys side that has a lot of experience, a lot of class all over the park, we have to be at our best."