By Tony Webeck, Chief Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
After three tumultuous years at Cronulla, Michael Gordon has played his final game for the Sharks confident in the belief that the club is now positioned to have success in the future.
Like his coach and captain, Gordon was left dumbfounded by the events of Saturday night as Cronulla's premiership dreams were crushed in a Cowboys stampede that began in the opening minutes and never let up, North Queensland booking a Preliminary Final showdown with the Storm in Melbourne with a 39-0 demolition.
The fortunes of the two teams in a sudden-death final could not have been more different as every bounce of the ball went the way of the home side and the Sharks lurched from one costly error to the next.
Coach Shane Flanagan said his players did not deserve one of the most lopsided scorelines in finals history given how far they had come in 2015 and Gordon commended the playing group for the way they had fought through adversity.
Wooden spooners in 2014, the Sharks started this season 0-4 yet only a last round hiccup against the Sea Eagles stopped them from finishing in the top four.
"Looking back we can be really proud of the season we've had. We were one win off being a top four side," Gordon told NRL.com.
"Obviously tonight is disappointing and to finish like that is disappointing but when we look back on the whole season I'll be real proud of the way the boys and the club have stuck together.
"They've certainly shown that they're a club on the up and there are plenty of good players here that are locked up for a few more years.
"I think there's only going to be nothing but success here."
Crestfallen captain Paul Gallen struggled to search for positives in the immediate aftermath of their finals capitulation but praised the emergence of young players such as Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes.
"Inside the camp, we weren't losing those early games badly except for the Melbourne game," Gallen said of their slow start.
"We were worried but we weren't listening to all the outside talk.
"We developed players like Bird and Holmes and Beale, they're going to be a hell of a lot better for it next year.
"We've taken some big steps forward but we were here to play a semi-final `and we just can't get away from the disappointment in the way we played.
"We just didn't put our best foot forward and I suppose that's why we feel a bit numb and a bit empty at the moment."
Bound for the Eels in 2016, Gordon's debut for the Sharks came in the weeks following the emergence of the ASADA scandal and despite the ensuing controversy that engulfed the club said he will look back fondly on his 71 games for Cronulla.
"Since I came here it all happened and it all unfolded but I think it just brought everyone closer together," said Gordon, who scored 400 points in his time at the Sharks.
"I was privileged to be a part of this group and the way everyone's held together.
"There have been some tough times here but everyone stayed strong and everyone is good mates here and I'll look back on the three years I've had here with great memories."
Article first appeared on NRL.com