Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon has asked the club’s long serving players to tell their newer team-mates what it is like to play at PointsBet Stadium as he prepares to take charge of his first NRL match at the venue where he was once a ball boy.
While Fitzgibbon’s NRL coaching debut was officially last weekend in Canberra, he was forced to watch the match on television from his Wollongong home after contracting COVID-19 and had little input once the game started due to the 20-second delay in the broadcast.
“It was tough last week, I am not going to lie,” Fitzgibbon said. “There was a sense of guilt, a sense of being left out a little bit so I am just really looking forward to it.
“I think the whole area, and definitely the club and the players, are excited to be back here at PointsBet so I will call this one my first week.”
Fitzgibbon was a Sharks ball boy when his father Allan coached Cronulla from 1989 to 1991 and has a fondness for the club and the ground that he hopes the current crop of players can also develop.
With the Sharks having played at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium for the past two seasons while Cronulla Leagues Club was undergoing renovations, the likes of Aidan Tolman, Teig Wilton, Siosifa Talakai and Royce Hunt have never played a home match at PointsBet Stadium.
Star recruits Nicho Hynes, Dale Finucane, Matt Ikuvalu and Cameron McInnes – if he comes through a final fitness test on Friday – will also be making their first appearance at PointsBet Stadium in Sharks colours against the Eels on Saturday night.
“Fitzy has obviously asked us to say something about what it is like to play here," prop Andrew Fifita said.
“Some of the boys haven’t even stepped foot on this field so they don’t know what the atmosphere is like. I have said to them, ‘wait until you come here with a full Shark house at PointsBet.
"It is crazy. You’ve got the fans hanging off the walls, you have got them up in the hills, you have got them up in the stands ... When this place is humming it is an unbelievable feeling."
After suffering a life threatening larynx injury in Brisbane last season, Fifita determined that playing at PointsBet Stadium again was one of the ambitions that drove him to keep playing.
“Fitzy asked me during the off-season what my goal was and I told him it was to play here,” Fifita said. “It has been two years since we have played at this place. We have had some amazing games and amazing times at Points Bet and I can’t wait to get back here. This is literally home.
“It is our happy place. For us it is home and for myself, it has been the last 10 years. I was grateful for the Dragons to allow us to use their dressing room and call it home for two years but when you come here it is a fortress.”
Fitzgibbon said a final decision on the fitness of McInnes would be made after Friday’s captain’s run, with the former Dragons captain hoping to make his first appearance since 2020 after rupturing his ACL during training last pre-season.
“He is chomping right but it’s a long year so we have got to make sure he is right,” Fitzgibbon said.
“I think everyone knows how he prepares and he plays with an intensity that is what the club needs
“He plays at a 100 miles per hour, he is just the ultimate competitor and takes a lot to stop.
"He is a bit like Dale in that he gives confidence to players inside and outside him. When you line up you know he is going to give you everything he’s got, and he can play different positions as well.”