Mike Greenaway delivers some ‘unsettling’ news for Sharks supporters
Here is the unsettling news for Sharks supporters. Since their team last won a trophy, in 1996 when they beat Transvaal in the Currie Cup final at Ellis Park, the boys in black-and-white have lost 14 times in semi-finals or finals in the two competitions in which they compete, the Currie Cup and the Super 12/14.
FOURTEEN TIMES! That is 12 years of systematic disappointment. So many so-near-yet-so-fars.
During this torturous journey, the Sharks have suffered more than their fair share of the misfortune that inevitably singles out one of the teams in these sudden-death games, and on some occasions it has been a case of the Sharks having no price against a team that was having its cyclical year in the sun.
The Sharks have found that there are no trophies for consistently coming second, no silverware for the good fellowship they have so often shown in playing the supporting role on the day.
But bad luck notwithstanding, my experience of covering the Sharks for the past 12 years tells me that some of those 14 defeats could have been victories had there been that innate, intrinsic, “16th man” strength that is the proud preserve of teams who are a band of brothers and brothers-in-arms.
Too often over the past decade the Sharks have simply been groups of mercenaries who have had common goals – win bonuses above all – but first and foremost they been individuals. Very talented individuals, often enough, which is why the Sharks have always been there and thereabouts, but often they have fallen short at the last or second-last hurdle because they have not had that X-factor that separates the pretenders from the genuine contenders and from the champions.
Too often the conceited players have had no one but themselves to blame for the defeats.
In the 1990s the Sharks had that X-factor to burn. It was the ethanol that fuelled them to those four Currie Cup titles under Ian McIntosh.
The team that Mac built had its imports, make no mistake, but it was primarily a Natal team and the imports added flesh to the Natal backbone and, after a while, they were as black-and-white as Craig Jamieson, Hugh Reece-Edwards, Tony Watson, John Allan, Steve Atherton or Gary Teichmann.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, the legends departed just about in one fell swoop. By the time Mac retired after the 1999 Currie Cup final defeat against Transvaal, along with Teich, Henry Honiball and Andre Joubert, there were not too many heroes left beyond Mark Andrews and Wayne Fyvie.
A turnover of coaches generally followed. Poor Hugh Reece-Edwards had no chance in 2000 with a new squad of players who had trouble recognising each other at the bar. Rudolf Straeuli settled things down the next year but then left to coach the Boks.
In the dismal Kevin Putt years, the Sharks hit rock-bottom as the infamous no-name brands were bought from bastions such as the Pumas because the heavyweights of SA rugby were not keen on boarding a sinking ship.
The Sharks were also guilty of neglecting their internal feeder systems.
But they pulled themselves together. The Sharks Academy was born and immediately produced players of the calibre of Clyde Rathbone.
Dick Muir began bringing through home-grown talent, including the cream of the academy.
By the time Muir moved on at the end of this year’s Super 14, some of the foundations had been laid for a new Sharks empire.
But it has been in the current Currie Cup, through new head coach John Plumtree’s insistence on traditional rugby values, that we are seeing a genuine revival of the Sharks as a close-knit family.
You can see it in the way the team is playing.
It takes a special set of circumstances and a special management team before the penny drops with a well-paid player that rugby is not about his ego and his individual needs.
Then a player WANTS to put the team ahead of himself and make that cover tackle or push harder in the scrum.
The Sharks have passed that threshold. Titles are not far off. I can feel it in my bones.Tweet