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Being a Sharks fan feels good again. No more anger, no more frustration. Little desire to scrape my eyeballs on sandpaper to distract me from the anguish of losing? again. There can be no doubting it ? Stuart Raper is the right man for the job.
After twenty months of lounging in limbo, Cronulla are back in the top eight. The fans are happy, the players are happy and the club isn?t rupturing down the seams. Everything is back to normal down Woolooware way.
Many weren?t convinced. Timid victories over the likes of South Sydney and Manly are not really the sort of thing that you?d get overly excited about. Defeating Parramatta in extra time? Exciting, but you?d have rather beaten them by twenty. However, throughout all those games, there were a few signs of improvement ? that the team was finally taking root and that it would soon be flowering into an attractive football playing outfit.
Few expected that moment to come against Brisbane.
Trailing twelve nil after as many minutes, the wheels were looking set to fall off. They were too strong, too powerful, too enthusiastic. And then, Cronulla remembered how to attack.
Attacking football was suppressed during the reign of the little dictator, Chris Anderson. One out football, running from dummy half, scoring from grubbers and dummy half runs was the fashion. It didn?t serve the club too well, evidenced by the club running out of finals contention last season.
But against Brisbane, something snapped, and those years of oppression dissolved from their memories. They didn?t need to rely on Brett Kimmorley to send players through gaps ? they found them themselves. David Simmons finished off one of the tries of the season, after Cronulla sent it right, and then left, searching desperately for a defensive lapse. None came, so they simply ran around their opponents.
They offloaded. They took chances. They played with their instincts, and it paid off. It was one of Cronulla?s best wins away from home in recent memory.
And it all comes down to the return of one man: Stuart Raper.
Raper knows how to get the best from his players. Weeks ago, Simmons was struggling in the top grade, but his coach maintained confidence in him. He understood that dropping him at this stage could be a possibly career shattering move, so he backed his rookie winger and the results are now showing.
The same could be said for Sam Isemonger or Andrew Lomu. Even Ryan McGoldrick, under heavy fire early in the season, has come back to take a dominant position in the team. Paul Gallen and Daniel Dumas ? both second rowers ? have flourished in the role of five eighth. Cronulla is back in the top eight on the back of a positive plan of attack ? and it?s all thanks to Stuart Raper.
Only time will tell if the team can maintain its good form. However, as a Sharks fan, it?s a pleasant experience being able to enjoy football again. No longer do I feel the need to pack a noose when I go to the football.
Why? Because football in the Shire is fun again.