Hanging on my bedroom wall, right next to the door, was a limited edition framed series of Cronulla Sharks collector cards. Between December 2003 and January 2016 it did not move.
The cards featured action shots of some of the Sharks key players that season. Some played for Australia, some became club legends, some have faded into complete obscurity.
For athletes with the profile of say Paul Gallen or Brett Kimmorley, becoming merchandise is a part of the job. But what about the Matt Bickerstaffs and the Pat Gibsons of the world? Even in their prime ten years ago these players were far from household names. Now these guys are mechanics, newsagents, superannuation officers. Why were they on my wall?
For three years I would spoon my girlfriend to sleep at night and make direct eye contact with one time Queensland Origin prop Danny Nutley and not once did it occur to me to take the cards down. They were a constant in my life. As far as Christmas presents go, this was pretty much heritage listing. They were there the first time I dry humped and the last time I wet the bed (events I really wish did not occur in that order).
For those who may be a little unfamiliar with the NRL, let me give you a quick recap. 2003 was a simpler time. A time before players had tattoos and wore hair gel. Before there were celebrity sugar daddies. Before the Sharks named a grandstand after a captain who slept with a teammates wife.
In this simple time, Cronulla were the simplest of teams. I don’t remember the team getting in fights or having scandals back then, and I’d even go as far to say that we were – as far as NRL players go – relatively good role models.
David Peachey was the first person I ever saw acknowledge their Aboriginal heritage. Jason Stevens vowed not to have sex before marriage. Even young Mat Rogers, long before Dancing with the Stars, used to recite a prayer before kicking goals.
Looking back I really think of the Cronulla Sharks of the early 2000s as the nice guys of rugby league. And just like a pathetically nice friend, we lacked substance. We have been around since 1967, and in our 50 years of existence have never won a grand final. A coach once famously said that “waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt.” We are the sporting equivalent of always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
I think there’s a lot to be learned from sport and rugby league taught me a lot when I was a boy. Sometimes things don’t work out, even when they should. But that’s okay because there’s always next year. This was no comfort in 2001 when I cried hysterically after the Sharks were knocked out of the finals. I remember actually praying to God that He never let my team never lose again. Eventually though, I began to embrace losing more and more, to the point now that as I look back on the times I played competitive sport my fondest memories are of being beaten.
In Year 11 my drama class studied ‘Waiting for Godot’. No one knew what the hell was going on. It was weird. Didn’t stack up against Spacejump, that’s for sure.
“Couldn’t he just make something happen?” my classmates asked our teacher
“Yeah, he could”
“So why doesn’t he?”
“It’s meant to be like this. It’s called existentialism.”
“All these writers came up with this idea. Because so many bad things were happening in the world they figured life must be meaningless, nothing matters, and God must be dead.”
There were blank faces.
“I thought this class would be more like Rocky Horror and stuff.”
I loved it. It all made sense. Sitting around, waiting for something that mightn’t even be coming. I’d had years of this already. Being a Sharks fan is waiting for Godot. My prayers went unanswered. Cronulla still lose. God must be dead.
Ethan Andrews is a stand up comedian from Singleton, NSW who has performed at the National Young Writers Festival, Sydney Fringe and Brisbane's Anywhere Festival. He also hosts the live show Madam Speaker, has appeared on ABC Radio National's Now Hear This and is the worst accounting student at the University of Newcastle.