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Cronulla are confident a year of milestones will prove the missing ingredient in their NRL premiership quest as Siosifa Talakai prepares to become the sixth Shark to play his 100th NRL game this season. 

The forward will join Jack Williams, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Sione Katoa, Oregon Kaufusi and Ronaldo Mulitalo in achieving the feat in 2024 when he runs out for Friday's clash with the Bulldogs at Accor Stadium. 

A further three Sharks are in line to crack triple figures later in the year, with Will Kennedy (95 games), Nicho Hynes (93) and Toby Rudolf (90) all in the 90s, while four others entered the season with more than 100 games under their belt. 

Should they make the grand final, Cronulla could have 13 players in triple figures. Penrith's premiership winning side from last year had nine.

Centre Jesse Ramien, who made his NRL debut with the Sharks in 2017 and has now played 136 NRL games, said the growth as a group in recent seasons has been key to his side's success and declared they are ready to create their own legacy in 2024.

Sifa Talakai is set to play his 100th NRL game on Friday night.
Sifa Talakai is set to play his 100th NRL game on Friday night. ©NRL Photos

"It does have that feel that this is our team now," Ramien told "We always touch on how we want to create our own legacy.

"That's something we're working towards and really want to build."

Talakai's journey to 100 games has been a longer one than most, the forward making his NRL debut with the Rabbitohs as a 19-year-old in 2016. 

His first stint in the top flight did not go to plan and he was sacked by South Sydney midway through the 2018 season.

Siosifa Talakai made his NRL debut with the Rabbitohs as a 19-year-old in 2016.
Siosifa Talakai made his NRL debut with the Rabbitohs as a 19-year-old in 2016. ©NRL Photos

A brief stint with Penrith's NSW Cup team followed, however he was not offered an NRL contract. As a result he turned to working as a garbage collector to make a living and considered walking away from the sport for good.

Eventually an opportunity popped up at Sharks feeder club the Newtown Jets in 2019, triggering Talakai's second coming as a player. The forward played a key role in the side's NSW Cup premiership and was invited to train with the Cronulla NRL side in the 2020 pre-season. 

A club debut eventually came later that year and he quickly developed into a physical, ball-carrying centre. Talakai's versatility saw him earn NSW selection in 2022, capping a remarkable rise to the game's biggest stage. 

Talakai concedes he thought he might never play rugby league again but revealed an emotional conversation with his dad inspired him to chase a second chance.

"I was a bit disrespectful the way I handled my opportunity at the Rabbitohs," Talakai said. "I wanted to pay [my dad] back for all the things he's done for myself and my family. 

"[We spoke about] being humble and making the most of the opportunity and seeing what was ahead. It opened my eyes to the struggle we had when we were younger and the opportunity I had and [the importance of] making the most of it. I decided to give it a good crack and if it was meant to be, it was meant to be and thankfully it was."

Eight current Sharks featured in the Newtown Jets 2019 NSW Cup premiership.
Eight current Sharks featured in the Newtown Jets 2019 NSW Cup premiership. ©NRL Photos

Talakai was one of eight current Sharks to feature in the 2019 NSW Cup victory, with the club taking a long-term approach to developing the current crop of players.

Shepherding the flock has been a number of experienced players leading by example and teaching the youngsters what it takes to be an NRL player. 

It's a group that includes retired forwards Wade Graham and Dale Finucane, and current captain Cameron McInnes, who the Sharks fought hard to lure away from St George Illawarra. 

The process has led to plenty of success, with Cronulla playing finals football in past two years, however they have struggled to take the next step in the post-season.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks top tries of April

The Sharks currently sit third on the ladder and look destined to again figure at the business end of the season but plenty of questions remain over how they will fare in September.

Ramien acknowledges inexperience has hurt the side in the past but said the lessons of 2022 and 2023 will be crucial throughout the next few months.

"We've got a good mix of players now," Ramien said. "For a few years we had a young squad with a few older heads. We were lucky enough to have [Graham], [Matt Moylan], Will Chambers, Aaron Woods with that experience. 

"Since those boys have retired and moved on, it brings new leaders through. It's good to see the boys getting more experience and comfortable with leadership."

While the Sharks have spent plenty of time developing their players on the field, they have also placed a heavy emphasis on ensuring they are good men off the field. 

The team has a heavy presence in the Cronulla community and multiple players conduct charity work beyond their club commitments. Mulitalo won the NRL's Ken Stephen Medal in 2021 while Hynes is the Sharks' finalist for the award this year.

Talakai recognises this environment of wholistic development is exactly what he needed as he sought a second chance in the NRL.

By his own admission, he was a hard-headed youngster who wasted an opportunity most people only dream of. 

Looking back, Talakai now views his time away from the game as a blessing in disguise and is grateful it set him on the path he's currently travelling. 

Along the way, he's learned plenty of lessons that will stay with him long after he's retired.

"I was a big ego when I was younger, very hard-headed and stubborn," Talakai said. "The lessons in life I learned, it opened my eyes and made me realise the opportunity I had. 

"It made me a better person. If you're a good person off the field, then on the field it will show as well with hard work. 

"Our culture [at Cronulla] is about being a good human first before being a good footy player. [Coach Craig Fitzgibbon] is massive on checking up on us and this club means everything to me. 

"My proudest moment is coming back into first grade and making my club debut. If it wasn't for this club giving me the opportunity in the first place, I wouldn't be where I am."

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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