Reason to celebrate after 'rollercoaster' week for Cronulla
A dramatic, up-and-down week in the Sutherland Shire ended with a comfortable win over the Knights, a top-four ladder position and a successful debut for the coach's son, Kyle Flanagan.
The patchy Sharks were troubled by the Knights for 60 minutes before streaking away in the final quarter.
It came at the end of a week in which prominent Sharks fan Scott Morrison was installed as Prime Minister, former Dragons and Sharks forward Lance Thompson died at the age of 40 and a host of departing stars played their final home games at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Cronulla also had to weather the storms created by Andrew Fifita's controversial post-try celebration last weekend plus the fallout after Fifita and Josh Dugan made foul-mouthed criticisms of veteran NewsCorp journalist Phil Rothfield in a podcast.
Luke Lewis was farewelled by the Cronulla fans and another member of the 2016 premiership-winning side, Knights veteran Chris Heighington, was also given an impromptu send-off by his former team.
Speaking after the relieving 38-12 win, coach Shane Flanagan conceded there had been no shortage of distractions but paid a touching tribute to Thompson, who was famous as a Dragon but touched plenty of lives in his three seasons in black, white and blue.
"It's been a real rollercoaster of the week; at the start of the week we knew what was happening this week with some players leaving the club, Luke's last game at home, Scott Morrison named as Prime Minister then the unfortunate death of Lance," Flanagan said.
"For myself, Kyle made his first-grade debut, it's been up and down all week but the players handled it really well but we ended up getting what we needed to do today so I wanted to congratulate them on that, congratulate Luke on his career, my condolences go out to the Thompson family.
"Everyone's going to gather around them and support them. I thank the NRL for allowing us to do what we did today for Lance, to rest that No.12 jersey. I know he played 38 games for the Sharks but he also worked here when he finished playing and lived locally. I've had a lot to do with him over the last couple of years. He's a wonderful person."
There was a rousing on-field send-off for the retiring Lewis, who joined his coach in the post-match press conference.
"The whole week's been pretty crazy. I experienced [something similar] when we had the big week with [my] 300th, it's quite draining but I'll look back in a couple of weeks and enjoy the moment then rather than tonight.
"It's a bit of a blur at the moment. I knew Thommo as well, he was one of the most humble and nice blokes I had anything to do with at this club.
"He always looked after us, offered us and the team and families to go down and have lunch.
"To come here and see all your friends and families in the crowd and try and perform at your best was pretty tough but it was a great memory, something I'll cherish for a long time but to be honest I'm glad it's over now and we can hone in on the next couple of weeks and really try and stake our claims on the premiership."