Shane Flanagan has erected the black, white and blue wall – and now the virtually impenetrable Sharks are on the brink of tearing up almost 30 years of rugby league records.
Having kept their opponents tryless for more than 160 minutes – including back-to-back shutouts of fellow grand finalists Melbourne and early season premiership favourites Penrith – Cronulla are just 80 minutes away from carving out the type of milestone every coach craves.
According to Champion Data, no top-flight rugby league side has gone three straight games without conceding a try since the Bulldogs achieved the feat in the opening three rounds of the 1989 season.
It would be a huge feather in the cap of Flanagan’s resilient Sharks if they could blank a struggling Titans side – possibly boosted by the return of Jarryd Hayne – at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
“That’s a really important part of the game, our defence,” Flanagan said. “If we get that right most weeks we’re going to give ourselves a chance.
“You just can’t turn up and think what you did last week transforms into [the next week though]. You need to get your attitude right.
“Hopefully we can add another 80 [minutes] onto it. They’re a really good attacking team and they’ve scored a lot of points [this year].”
South Sydney’s 1986 side and Canterbury’s 1984 vintage are the only other sides to preserve their line in three straight games stretching way back to 1974, when the rugby league rarity was achieved by Newtown.
It won’t be the only record spanning more than two decades the Sharks will be trying to break this year as they attempt to become the first side to win back-to-back competitions since the Broncos in 1992-93.
And after a sluggish start to the year Flanagan hailed his side’s defence as the key to a surge into the top four with games against the Titans and embattled Tigers to come before the representative round break.
“We’ve got an experienced bunch with some young kids in there and they’ve become used to winning,” Flanagan said. “They don’t enjoy losing. It’s a really experienced footy team that knows how to prepare and get ready.
“I’m sure we can score some tries, but it’s how many that we let in that’s going to be crucial.”
Luke Lewis is under an injury cloud for the clash with a tight hamstring and a decision on his availability will not be made until Saturday morning.
But it didn’t stop Flanagan from campaigning for Lewis’ fellow back-rower Wade Graham to earn an Australian jumper for the Anzac Test against New Zealand in Canberra.
“He’s got some versatility about him,” Flanagan said.
“He’s a competitor, he’s played Origin and if Mal [Meninga] is looking for someone that would respect and cherish that jersey … I know Wade Graham would treat the jersey with the respect it deserves.”
The Titans have also named Konrad Hurrell and Kevin Proctor in an extended squad to complement Hayne’s potential return, but it is a Sharks centre who seems to finally be comfortable now headlines surrounding his future have subsided.
Asked about his relationship with the Brisbane-bound Jack Bird, Flanagan said: “It’s perfect. Nothing changes. Me and Birdy get on really well.
“Like every player and coach we have our moments, but we get on perfect. Things haven’t changed. Our relationship due to Birdy’s decision hasn’t changed one bit.”