NRL TrophyIn recent years, it’s been regional teams that have starred in the major games at the back end of the NRL season. The Broncos, Cowboys and the ever present Storm side.

But while the NZ Warriors and Melbourne Storm are still poised to spoil a Sydney party, the battle of the beaches seems to be a possibility. Last years bridesmaids Manly, who many say still have a ‘choker’ tag wrapped around their neck in big games in recent seasons can possibly take comfort out of the fact that the Sharks are officially the biggest chokers of all time – failing to have ever won a Rugby League premiership since entering the competition in 1967.

So while locals are heading to Sydney’s beaches as summer sun arrives, they might be quickly flocking back to ANZ Stadium if the Sharks and Sea Eagles secure their pathes to the big game next weekend.

Not since 2005 has a Sydney team lifted the NRL statue, and the thought of a Melbourne v Warriors grand final is about as bad as it gets. However, such is the dislike for Manly in local circles – that a large defacto Warriors support crew is reported to be jumping on the bandwagon to join the large ex-pat Kiwi population in and around Manly who will no doubt journey across the harbour to cheer on their cuzzy bro’s.

It’s also a scenario far from the thoughts of Matt Orford and Brett Kimmorley.

With a coveted grand final berth just 80 minutes away, Kimmorley has called upon the Shire to carry his team on a wave of support. Orford has called upon the legends of old.

They can call all they like – the ‘battle of the beaches’ will go down as one of the greats.

“The trophy hasn’t been in Sydney for a few years now With Melbourne (2007) and Brisbane (2006) winning it,” Kimmorley told News Limited.

“It would be a great grand final build-up if it was Cronulla and Manly – north versus south.

“Brisbane say they are now the home of footy so it would be great to get two full houses to show how much Sydney loves its footy.

“I hope the city really gets behind both sides. I’d love to see a Cronulla – Manly grand final. There is history there as well with the 1978 grand finals and the 1973 decider.”

After 41 seasons in the top grade, the Shire has never tasted the sweet pleasure of a premiership – and it’s a stat every other fan just loves to rub their noses in.

They came within a point in 1978, drawing the decider with none other than Manly – before falling in the grand final replay 16-0.

Not even in the Super League spin-off competition could they break the duck – slumping badly against the Broncos in 1997.

But Kimmorley insists the Sharks are circling.

“The Shire is getting more and more excited,” said the departing veteran playmaker.

“I have felt the whole area lift this week. But I’m not saying we’re there yet – we have a huge game ahead of us.”

Orford – Kimmorley’s body double from the north – agrees neither team can get ahead of themselves.

“We’ve got a massive hurdle in front of us first,” Orford told News Limited.

“But if we can get through, it would be great for both Sydney sides to get there. Maybe it’s time that Sydney got it on again and it would be great for the two beach sides to play in a grand final.

“We had a dinner earlier this year to play tribute to our 1978 side, which played Cronulla in that grand final.

“There is a great tradition between Cronulla and Manly.”

The Sharks will front up against the Storm at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night, with all eyes on rookie Blake Green. He’s stepping in for injured pivot Brett Seymour – and he could come up against a former Cronulla junior in Russell Aitkin – the man tipped by some to replace suspended skipper Cameron Smith.

The Sea Eagles will put their season on the line when they attempt to give the Warriors’ finals fairytale an unhappy ending on Saturday night.

By ricky

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