What the Sharks’ win means to the local surf community.
Cronulla might be in the midst of a flat spell at the moment, but the waves of stoke flowing through the beachside community following the Sharks’ historic victory in the NRL Grand Final are more than making up for it. After fifty years of waiting, the Cronulla team’s inaugural premiership win has sent the whole shire into celebration and evoked a sense of sporting achievement among the local community that hasn’t been seen since Occy won the world title back in 1999.
‘It means the world to me,’ says that man, Mark Occhilupo, who grew up a stone’s throw away from Cronulla in Kurnell. ‘I’ve been following the Sharks since I was a grommy. I played for Cronulla/Caringbah until I was fifteen. I even played a Grand Final at Shark Park. It’s unbelievable.’
Occy’s far from alone in his excitement, with pretty much everyone south of Tom Ugly’s Bridge still buzzing from the win.
‘The communal camaraderie has been enormous,’ says local shaper and owner of PCC Surfboards, Stuart Paterson. ‘It’s created a lot of unity that was probably always there, but it’s brought it to the fore in everybody’s hearts and minds.’
A lifelong supporter of the Sharks, Stuart went so far as to erect a flagpole outside his shop so he could fly his team’s colours during the finals and was in the crowd for eighteen of the Sharks’ twenty-nine games, including the big one at the end.
‘In the last three minutes there were just times when I thought, Melbourne are going to do a Melbourne on us. I was thinking, Oh no!’ he recalls. ‘And somehow they held on. The siren had gone and they were still throwing the ball around and somehow Cronulla managed to scramble and stop it. That was just an amazing feeling. I can’t really describe it. I was bawling.’
With hugging and singing going down in the streets following the result and people still getting around in their jerseys, Steve Brown from local surf store Members of the Board says the vibe around town has never been better.
‘It’s a great thing for everyone,’ he says. ‘Everyone is just super happy. It’s something none of us have ever experienced before. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens when there’s swell again and Chris Heighington or one of the boys paddles out. They’ll probably be allowed to take whatever waves they want.’