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Blood in the Water
When Cronulla chose the Sharks as their moniker when they entered the NSWRL in 1967, it had a number of ideas on their mind. Firstly, it was paying tribute to the Cronulla Surf Club's rugby league teams of the 1950's, which were also known as the 'Sharks'. In a further tribute to the surf club, Cronulla adopted their blue, white and black colours. Secondly, it was aiming for the image of a predator that stalks and hunts others. Ironically, for most of their existence, Cronulla been more like a bleeding surfer being circled by Sharks smelling blood in the water. In a sign that miracles do happen, the Sharks have overcome many of the misfortunes that were expected to destroy them.
Cronulla always battled for funding in its early years. Whereas other clubs considered the year to be a success if it won a premiership, Cronulla considered the year to be a success if it survived. Former coach Jack Gibson put it quite aptly when he said that waiting for the Sharks to win a premiership would be like leaving the light on for Harold Holt.
The Cronulla region has traditionally been a working class area nestled between St George and Wollongong. It was the region made famous in the Aussie cult movie classic Puberty Blues; a story dealing with blooming female sexuality and love in the back of a panel van. It was generally regarded as a bogan beach, not because the people of Cronulla were bogans, but because it is one of the few beaches with an accessible train station, which allowed the people of the western suburbs to enjoy Sydney’s beaches as well.
In the late eighties, Cronulla gained a bit of glamour. It signed a pretty boy named Andrew Ettinghausen who refuted the stereotype that all rugby players are short and stocky with noses like the elephant man and ears like satellite dishes. Promoting its sex appeal, Cronulla pulled women through the rugby league turnstiles. One of these ladies included Elle McPherson; a supermodel who was unlikely to have ever made love in the back of a panel van.
Perhaps it was the glamorous associations that motivated News Ltd to extend Cronulla an invitation to join its rebel 'Super League' in the mid 90s. As a team with no premierships to cherish and a multinational company promising a solution to its financial woes, Cronulla was more than willing to turn its back on the ARL in the hope that it would finally become the shark not the surfer.
But Super League proved to be a flop and a subsequent peace deal stipulated that Sydney clubs must merge in preparation for a streamlined competition. Although Cronulla's funding from News Ltd gave it immunity from rationalisation, the two ARL clubs to the north and south of it, St George and Illawarra, had their heads on the chopping blocks.
To ensure their survival, St George and Illawarra merged to create a southern Sydney super club. This left Cronulla sitting in an uncomfortable position geographically. Trying to adapt, they dropped Cronulla from their name to become 'the Sharks.' Thus a club with the NRL's most regionally flavoursome moniker, no longer has a regional association.
By 2003, it had become apparent that dropping the Cronulla from its name hadn’t made the club more popular Australia wide and it was decided to re-embrace the geographical association of the region. Unfortunately, its timing was poor as in 2005, the name Cronulla became tainted with stories of race riots. Some of the liberated sexuality shown blooming in Puberty Blues sparked friction with Muslim men, who found it offensive when shown by women on the beach. Friction came to a head when two young Australian lifesavers were bashed by a Lebanese gang. In response, approximately 5,000 people descended upon Cronulla beach for a demonstration. Mixed in were the crowd were some white supremacist groups bearing anti-Lebanese slogans. In retaliation, 40 car-loads of Lebanese came to Cronulla to smash cars, and beat up locals walking down the street.
While Cronulla’s players were in no way involved, sponsors were reluctant to be in any way associated with the Cronulla name. Just when things seemed to be at their lowest point, more bad press followed as journalists decided that the sex lives of footballers deserved a level of scrutiny that was not applied to the general population. In 2009, the ABC's Four Corners program ran a story about the team having a gang bang 7 years earlier with with a New Zealand woman who had come to regret the encounter. Even though no charges were ever laid, and nothing illegal was suggested, Four Corners stated that the gangbang was a clear sign that the club had an attitude problem with women. (In all fairness, if the sex lives of politicians and ABC journalists had been subjected to the same scrutiny, then Four Corners would have also unearthed the type of sexual encounters that participants wouldn't publicly admit to for fear of being outside public morality towards women.)
With the morality of the gang bang could be debated, a subsequent news report did reveal that its administration had an unusual way of dealing with female staff. Specifically, CEO Tony Zappia managed to give a staff member a black eye and then tried to apologise by offering to let her spank him and/or join him in watching some pornography. The woman declined his offer.
Things got even worse in 2013 when Cronulla was named by ASADA as one of the rugby league clubs that may have used performance enhancing drugs. Just being named as a possible drug offender resulted in the club losing a $2 million stadium sponsor. This was followed up with 14 Cronulla players being offered 6 month bans if they confessed their guilt to drug cheating. None had ever tested positive and the accusation that they had stemmed from a disgruntled employee who claimed they had been using legal but performance enhancing peptides. Guilty or not, it was another blow to the Cronulla brand through the media before any solid evidence of wrong doing had been tested.
In response to the media storm, the Sharks stood down the coach and 4 officials. They also brokered a deal for 14 players to receive 6 month suspensions – all before any allegations of wrong doing had been tested. In many ways, it was like being in the water as sharks circled, and cutting off a mates arm and feeding it to the sharks in the hope they went away. Naturally, those who had been targeted to have their arms cut off didn’t like the plan.
Low on funds, little appeal to sponsors, in danger of bankruptcy and its few star players in danger of suspension, not only was waiting for the Sharks to win a premiership like leaving the light on for Harold Holt, but the Sharks looked like going the way of Harold Holt. Inexplicitly, in 2016 they won their first premiership.
Roy Morgan research
2004 - when compared to other NRL supporters
2006 - when compared to other NRL supporters
Cronulla Sharks jokes
1) There is a Shire psychiatrist that has a thriving practice, particularly during the football season. He tried an idea-association test on a patient and asked her what came to mind when she thought of something brown, firm and had smooth curves. " A football" said the patient immediately. "Good. And what comes to mind when two arms slide around your waste?" "An illegal tackle" was the instant reply. "Now picture a firm set of thighs" "a full back!" "Top marks" said the psychiatrist. "Your answers are perfectly normal. You would be surprised by some of the silly answers I get."
2) The Cronulla Sharks now have a new telephone number. Its 1800 1 0 1 0 1 0. That's 1800 won nothing won nothing won nothing.
3) The Cronulla Sharks squad just finished their pre training pep talk from Ricky. Words like passion, respect and pride were evident. The boys were pumped, ready to train the hardest they had all season.
4)What's the difference between the Cronulla Sharks and Spielberg's Jaws?
5) Training was delayed at Toyota Park yesterday after a mysterious white substance was found on the grass. After closer inspection, and forensic testing, the results came back. The substance unfamiliar to Sharks players was, in fact, the try line.
Why kind of country has four codes of "football"?