The 2016 Grand Final, the 201st game of an exciting NRL season, with only two teams left standing.
The Sharks, just two years removed from their wooden spoon season of 2014, chasing their first premiership in the Club’s 49-year history, against perennial contenders in the Melbourne Storm.
It was a year in which the Sharks won 17 games during the regular season to finish third on the ladder, then travelled to Canberra in pulling off one of the greatest victories in recent memory.
No Gallen, Wade Graham took no further part after being concussed inside the opening 10 minutes and in front of a hostile Canberra crowd a late James Maloney penalty goal saw the Sharks record a memorable 16-14 triumph.
Following a week off to rest and recuperate, the Cronulla side would take it up a notch, dismantling Johnathan Thurston and his defending premiers the North Queensland Cowboys in a complete display.
Don’t let the final score line of 32-20 be the guide, the Sharks dominated the contest before allowing a couple of late consolation tries in a performance which gave themselves plenty of confidence for the competition decider the week following.
Standing in their way however was a Melbourne team which had claimed the minor premiership and then snuck past the Raiders to reach the big dance, fielding a side with a roster featuring Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith.
Together the Melbourne pair had more Grand Final experience with 11 games between them, than the entire Sharks 17, who entered the match with a total of just eight Grand Final caps.
The ledger coming into the decider was squared at one apiece, the Storm winning their most recent encounter down in Melbourne in what was a Minor Premiership playoff in Round 26.
The Sharks were soundly beaten, although the 26-6 result probably didn’t provide a fair indication of the difference between the two teams, with the Cronulla side creating plenty of try scoring opportunities on that particular evening which they failed to capitalise on.
Also in the Sharks favour, the Grand Final was scheduled to be played at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, not at AAMI Park in Melbourne where they had a dismal record.
When asked what makes the Storm so dangerous, Sharks skipper Paul Gallen had a simple answer.
"Complete. They just complete and they’re ruthless and relentless in what they do,” Gallen said.
"You hear people say you know what’s coming with them. Well it’s easy to know what’s coming but it’s hard to stop. They just ask questions for 80 minutes. They’re just a relentless side in all areas of the park from their edges to their middle."
As for the team lists, the Sharks named a 19-man squad, with Sam Tagataese the wild card after the hard-running forward had missed the lead up matches due to a long-term injury. Joseph Paulo, injured in the round 26 loss in Melbourne, was also fit and ready to play if required.
Tagataese’s potential inclusion in coach Shane Flanagan’s final 17 it was shaping to be a massive gamble in what would have been the big Samoan’s first match in two months due to a fractured shoulder blade.
Kurt Capewell, who had impressed in the absence of Tagataese, was likely to be the odd man out.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy was playing his cards close to his chest in as far as his final 17 was concerned, naming a 22-man squad.
In addition to Cronk and Smith, Cameron Munster at the back, Fijian flyer Suliasi Vunivalu on the wing and a ruthless forward pack shaped as the Melbourne strengths.
While for the Sharks, the Jack Bird, Valentine Holmes right hand side partnership was lethal, Ben Barba had been in outstanding form, the forwards were confident they had what it takes to match their Melbourne opponents and James Maloney was a winner – just ask him.
Emphasising Gallen’s sentiment that Melbourne don’t beat themselves, they were the only team to complete at over 80 per cent in 2016, going at a stunning 81.7 per cent for the year. Meanwhile the Sharks, despite winning their way through to the first Sunday in October, were a lowly 14th, completing at 74.6 per cent on the season.
You can’t attack if you don’t have the ball, but stats indicate the Sharks appear to do more with it when they do.
The previous history from matches played between the two clubs saw the Storm hold a distinct advantage at 21 wins to 10.
Cronulla’s win earlier in 2016 was their first against Melbourne since early 2012, the Storm having won 13 of the past 15 meetings.
The Sharks also had a poor record at ANZ Stadium, with just two wins from their past 11 visits and seven wins from 23 overall, as opposed to the Storm who boasted a 12-4 winning record at the ground.
Melbourne and Cronulla had never met at ANZ Stadium before.
The match officials were referee Matt Cecchin and his assistant referee Ben Cummins, with sideline officials Brett Suttor and Jeff Younis.
The Sharks are Storm team lists are listed below, with a full reply of the 2016 Sharks v Storm Grand Final scheduled to kick off on the Sharks website at 7PM on Thursday, 21 May.
CRONULLA SHARKS GRAND FINAL TEAM LIST
1. Ben Barba
2. Sosaia Feki
3. Jack Bird
4. Ricky Leutele
5. Valentine Holmes
6. James Maloney
7. Chad Townsend
8. Andrew Fifita
9. Michael Ennis
10. Matt Prior
11. Luke Lewis
12. Wade Graham
13. Paul Gallen (c)
14. Gerard Beale
15. Chris Heighington
16. Sam Tagataese
17. Jayson Bukuya
18. Kurt Capewell
21. Joseph Paulo
Coach: Shane Flanagan
MELBOURNE STORM GRAND FINAL TEAM LIST
1. Cameron Munster
2. Suliasi Vunivalu
3. William Chambers
4. Cheyse Blair
5. Marika Koroibete
6. Blake Green
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Cameron Smith (c)
10. Jordan McLean
11. Kevin Proctor
12. Tohu Harris
13. Dale Finucane
14. Kenny Bromwich
15. Tim Glasby
16. Christian Welch
17. Ben Hampton
18. Young Tonumaipea
19. Slade Griffin
20. Matt White
21. Felise Kaufusi
22. Ryan Morgan
Coach: Craig Bellamy