There are Sharks fans, then there is Ross Learmonth.
While the majority of the Sharks fan and membership base resides in or close to the club’s home base of the Sutherland Shire, the support stretches far and wide.
Fan days at away games showcases the support the Sharks receive interstate and in regional areas, but some fans are certainly more passionate than others, and happy to show it off at that.
One such Sharks supporter resides in the heart of Queensland, in a town called Maryborough some three hours north of Brisbane. Up in those parts when he’s not referred to as Ross, they just call him Shark Man.
Ross ‘Rusty' Learmonth, aged 61 years, a New South Welshman by berth, has for 30 years resided in the less than Shark-friendly Queensland town which is dominated by Broncos and Cowboys fans.
Undeterred, Learmonth has been loud and proud in support of the Sharks, emphasised by a 10-metre flag pole erected on his Maryborough property, one which features a Sharks flag flapping in the breeze.
Always a Cronulla fan, after a family tragedy some 10 years ago, Ross and family took solace, some joy and belonging from his love of the Sharks, with his support unconditional, some might say somewhat irrational, but never has Ross left any doubt to where his footballing allegiances lie.
Celebrations in the Shire went on for days after Paul Gallen lifted the premiership trophy in 2016, but if you thought the party was big in and around Woolooware, in Maryborough and specifically near Ross’s house, the festivities were just as loud and boisterous.
With his childhood spent in the NSW Manning region near Taree, at a young age Ross developed a passion for the Sharks, growing a liking for the mascot, the blue, black and white strip and legendary Cronulla players such as Ken Maddison, Tommy Bishop, Cliff Watson and Greg Pierce.
Of the current crop Ross loves the work of Gallen and Chad Townsend, the recently retired Luke Lewis, with former greats Steve Rogers, Mat Rogers and the Sorensen brothers ranking amongst his all-time favourites.
For years he stuck solid, supporting the Sharks from afar and yearning for that elusive premiership.
Like many long-time Sharks fans he was ultimately rewarded with the Grand Final success of 2016 and the Shire partied for days. As did Ross.
In addition to enjoying many beverages and watching countless replays, Learmonth added Sharks ink to his considerable collection of tattoos, with a distinctive 2016 Premiers tattoo now proudly displayed on his calf.
As well as the tattoo, Ross has a substantial and well-worn collection of Sharks merchandise including shorts, socks, shirts, jerseys, caps, flags, sports bags, stubby holders, undies, footballs and a 2016 commemorative Grand Final framed photo collection which has a prominent place in his lounge-room.
And showing that great Sharks such as Ross do travel occasionally to foreign waters, on a recent trip to China he attacked the Great Wall wearing a complete Cronulla Sharks outfit.
As brother-in-law Mark Madden explained in a letter to the club alerting us about Ross and his love of the Sharks, he has some character traits similar to our emblem.
“He is strong, patient and a bit wild. He is also fiercely loyal, a great family man and hates people to make a fuss over him,” Madden said.
We haven’t tried to make that fuss over him, but all at the Sharks certainly appreciate the support and encourage Ross to keep fighting the good fight up there in enemy territory.