SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Sharks captain Paul Gallen acknowledges fans after the NRL Elimination Final match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Cronulla Sharks at Lottoland on September 14, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Tonight is the night of Rugby League’s triumphant return!

Either way, 15 sets of NRL fanbases are in celebration mode. The corks have been popped, the pizzas are ordered, the game is BACK!

For the 16th team, today is just another day of reflection. How and why were we cursed with becoming fans of the club that continues to ruin good moments? That fan base, as is usually the case in this sort of situation, is that of the Cronulla Sharks.

I feel that I have written something similar on at least 322 occasions but nothing I can say here can ever really drive home just what it is like to support the Black, White and Blue.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change a thing. October 2nd 2016 is still in the top three nights of my life. I have two children for context.

Nothing beats a cool to absolutely freezing Saturday night in the Shire. Beers flowing, the boys doing their thing and returning to the Leagues Club (win/lose or draw) to both defrost and dance until the bouncers suggest perhaps it’s time to head home.

I’ve met the mother of my kids, and the majority of my closest mates through the club. I have signed jerseys from the years my kids were born. My literal earliest memories are of being at Shark Park.

When it’s good, it is AMAZING!!!

But … the Sharks put the word LABOUR in the term “labour of love”.

I have named the grey hairs on the side of my head “Shane Flanagan circa 2014”, “Shane Flanagan circa 2018”, “Asada”, “Todd Carney”, “Sex Toy Scandal”, “Ben Barba”, “Shadow Boxer”, “Cut up Dragons jersey”, “Steve Noyce” oh I could go on for an hour. Michael Sullivan, Tevita Latu, Isaac Gordon.

The latest in the line of scandals is the standing down of one of the club’s youngest and brightest prospects in the form of Bronson Xerri.

Straight up, at this stage, there is no suggestion that the club had any involvement or knowledge of what was allegedly being carried out by their young centre. That said, as a Sharks fan you can’t help but hold you breathe that more may be involved. We have form.

Two days out from the resumption of play, Team List Tuesday of all days, the news broke. So did our hearts.

We’ve now lost the weapon in which we were building our 2020 season around. Make no mistake, for every joke re his hands or his temperament, Bronson Xerri is a strike weapon that very few across the competition hold.

He was in the top few quickest players in 2019 and was improving each game. Yes he still had a serious case of the dropsies but with every game his positioning improved and he became more and more dangerous.

That left edge combination with Wade Graham was arguably the most dangerous combo in the game. Might sound like hyperbole but last season the Sharks ripped the Eels and Bunnies to absolute shreds down that left side. Xerri was scoring almost at will and since the return of his skipper he was making linebreaks for fun.

Josh Dugan is a pretty handy replacement but he lacks the explosive speed of Xerri.

Left edge blunted! Our X-Factor gone.

As is usually the way with the Sharks (*cough* just before round one in 2013 *cough*) the timing here is awful.

Not only was it the day we named our team list, but it came just weeks after releasing Josh Morris to the Roosters.

There is absolutely no chance in the world that the club would even entertain the idea of possibly releasing the experienced centre if Xerri were unavailable. Again, Dugan is a handy replacement but there is no guarantee he’ll be fit enough to play 15+ games this season.

Then there’s the fact that it looks all but certain that young gun prop forward Toby Rudolf is set to shift to the Warriors next season.

Cronulla have been working on an extension for Xerri since the night he debuted. Beforehand even. The night he tore through Manly’s defence in a pre-season trial in front of a surprisingly big crowd, we knew what we had.

Rudolf is the kind of player that the Sharks needed to re-sign but given the choice, Xerri was going to trump almost everyone in the side re an upgrade and extension.

Shame this couldn’t have happened a month ago so the Sharks had the funds to match the Warriors offer and ensure Toby stayed a Shark long-term.

Of course no one can blame Asada, Toby, Morris or even the Roosters for this situation. It’s just down to timing and an alleged error by a youngster likely looking to return from injury too quickly.

Instead of an excitement for Saturday afternoon’s fixture now us Sharks fans are quietly worried that there is more bad news to come. We’re a club good at piling on the negative.

Don’t feel sorry for us. Not that anyone is. If this were any other club I would be lapping this up and exhausting every terrible joke I could muster across social media. All part of the fun.

Everything will ultimately be fine. Dugan comes in, Katoa retains his spot and can build on his excellent start to the season. Ramien becomes our new weapon and I’m sure we’ll be back to arguing over a referee call or a team selection come Sunday morning.

That said, it’s not easy being a Sharks fan. Never dull though …

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