Cronulla Sharks players Michael Ennis and Paul Gallen take part in a training session at Southern Cross Stadium in Sydney.
Cronulla Sharks players Michael Ennis and Paul Gallen take part in a training session at Southern Cross Stadium in Sydney. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Which team does the fan base most dislike?

HAS there been a recent NRL grand final where so much fan antagonism has been aimed at the two combatants?

The 2016 decider is not a simple question of which team is the more popular - it's which team do we, as fans, dislike the most? And for those who do not support either the Sharks or the Storm, it is a case of zilch emotional attachment.

While the Sharks have never won a premiership in their 50-year history and should be the sentimental pick, events of recent times have somewhat sullied their standing in the game. The peptide issue still rankles many and the punishment, compared to Essendon in the AFL, was trivial.

Throw in recent bumbling by Sharks management over a number of serious off-field issues, the disgraceful and insensitive behaviour of Andrew Fifita, the "greatest pest in the game” crown awarded again to Michael Ennis and the long-standing love-hate relationship with Paul Gallen, and there are plenty of reasons for detached fans to not cheer for Cronulla.

Then there are those with even longer memories who recall the Super League days, and the defection of the Sharks to the dark side.

And while few from the establishment recognise the Super League premiership from 1997, adversaries of Cronulla are quick to count that as another grand final in which they failed.

But the Sharks don't have the antagonists all to themselves.

Systemic salary cap rorting from 2006 cost the Storm two premierships and three minor premierships, as well as a multitude of followers. As well, the introduction of despicable tackles such as the grapple and chicken wing have been blamed on Melbourne, as has the greatly detested wrestle.

And while Queenslanders may have Cameron Smith standing on the highest-possible pedestal, most who support the colour blue at State of Origin time would much prefer to see their skipper, Paul Gallen, finally raise a trophy in triumph.

Because the grand final is played in Sydney - where it should always stay - on Sunday Sharks fans will greatly outnumber the purple of Melbourne. And expect them to be as innovative and as loud as those from Canberra, who have impressed all and sundry in recent months.

But while the Olympic Stadium will no doubt be sold out for what is rightly a major event on the national sporting calendar, the lead-up to this one has been surprising low key.

My last visit to the NRL grand final was in 2006 as part of the Broncos contingent that beat Melbourne, and at full-time that day the stadium was not exactly filled with hysteria.

Come full-time on Sunday night don't be surprised if that atmosphere again prevails - unless my judgment is again awry, and the Sharks can break their 50-year drought.

If that happens, even the most ardent Sharks detractors should salute that effort.



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