Embattled Cronulla say a big crowd at home against Newcastle on Sunday could prove crucial to their future.
Cronulla have billed Sunday’s clash of the underdogs against Newcastle as a significant match in the context of their future, as the Sharks look to prove to the NRL they deserve more day-time football next year.
In a by-gone era, the Sharks were known for their Saturday night games, with the hill more party scene than vantage point for league die-hards.
But the demographic has changed and Cronulla are building their future prosperity on the involvement of families at Remondis Stadium.
With the ASADA controversy refusing to go away, the Sharks are conscious their image is more important than ever – a reason why Todd Carney was shown the door two weeks ago.
Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce was vocal in his disappointment at the draw handed to his club for this season, with this weekend and a late-round fixture against Canberra their only Sunday afternoon matches.
But Noyce says his lobbying can only go so far, and has called on the people of The Shire to vote with their feet on Sunday.
Despite the controversy that continues to plague the club, there’s plenty to like about the courage shown by unheralded Cronulla players of late.
In consecutive weeks away from home the Sharks have twice broken the club record for biggest comeback in storming home for fairytale wins over Brisbane and the Sydney Roosters.
NSW Origin stars Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis are set to back-up and the Sharks have a big chance to keep their impressive run going against a Newcastle team reeling from the news that coach Wayne Bennett is to leave the club at the end of the year.
Noyce has issued a call to arms.
“We get a chance to send a message to the rugby league world. It’s up to us and all the Sharks sponsors and members and supporters to come out and support the team that have certainly done two amazing comeback wins,” he said.
“We’ve got a real opportunity to show the NRL and Channel Nine that if you give us the opportunity we won’t let you down.
“We’ve got lots and lots of family promotions. It gives us a chance to get families out and families are very much our future.”
The Sharks and Knights – along with Canberra – are anchored to the bottom of the table.
But both sides have won their past two matches and shown signs they’re capable of making life uncomfortable for opposition teams in the run to the finals.
Sunday also presents an interesting battle of the coaches with rookie James Shepherd going head-to-head with eight-time premiership-winner Bennett.
Shepherd has been shown faith by the Cronulla board to remain in charge following the departure of Peter Sharp.
Bennett has a tough assignment to get his side up, after he dropped the bombshell mid-week that he will depart the Knights early at the end of the season.