NRL greatness beckons for Storm
Photo Source: AAP
History beckons for Cronulla and a place in the rugby league pantheon for Melbourne.
It's not just the Provan-Summons Trophy on the line in Sunday's NRL grand final, but also the legacy of two proud clubs.
Reams of news print this week have been devoted to the Sharks' 50-year title drought but the Storm also have pride to play for as they get a chance to write their names in the history books as one of the great sides of the modern era.
Having had their 2007 and 2009 titles stripped, the Storm are searching for their third premiership. In the NRL era (since 1998), only Brisbane have won more - in 1998, 2000 and 2006.
And while there will forever be an asterisk alongside the Storm's name in the history books, a title would remove any doubt that Craig Bellamy's side deserve to be spoken about as one of the great modern teams.
Bellamy will be in charge for his sixth grand final as a coach - moving him equal alongside Bob Fulton, Jack Gibson and Warren Ryan. Only the great Wayne Bennett (nine) has taken a side to more season deciders.
In recent years, the Sharks have teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, threatened with relocation and decimated by the ASADA scandal. And when Sharks coach Shane Flanagan began his rebuild, he looked to Bellamy - whom he served under as NSW assistant coach from 2007-10 - for inspiration.
"Two years ago, when we talked about where we wanted to be as a club, Melbourne Storm were one of the clubs we looked at," Flanagan said.
"I know the way Craig operates. They have been the most-consistent team for 10 years, for mine. We admire them as a club and a benchmark.
"Come Sunday, we'll be taking the gloves off, that's for sure."
For their 50 seasons in the competition, the Sharks have just three runners-up tags and the 1979 mid-week Amco Cup to show for it.
Premiership windows have been rare for the southern Sydney club - and theirs could close quickly with influential hooker Michael Ennis to retire after Sunday's game.
And while expectation in the Shire has been overwhelming, it's not something Flanagan is shying away from.
"We're not going to hide from it," Flanagan said.
"That's been part of it the whole year and on what our supporter base has been built.
"The club has gone through the roof this year and I want them to enjoy that. I'm not going to lock them in a hotel somewhere else."
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Melbourne have an excellent overall record against Cronulla, winning 21 of their 31 meetings including 11 of their past 13 matches
* The Sharks' last win against Melbourne away from Shark Park was in round two, 2008
* When Cameron Smith and Paul Gallen lead their teams out, it will be the first time State of Origin captains have skippered opposite sides in a grand final
Source: Fox Sports Stats