Jack Wighton's Souths blow, brutal Sharks truth: Good, bad, ugly of NRL finals Week 1

The Rabbitohs have copped some more unwanted news after missing the NRL finals.

Nicho Hynes and Jack Wighton in the NRL finals.
Jack Wighton (R) looks destined to miss the start of the 2024 season for Souths. Image: Getty

😃 The good: Newcastle super-fan heading across the ditch

😔 The bad: Cronulla's horror finals record gets even worse

😡 The ugly: Jack Wighton to miss start of 2024 season

Knights' famous flag-waving fan facing happy headache

You may know the flag but not the person. Damian 'Damo' McFarland is the man behind the chequerboard Newcastle flag flying high at just about every Knights game around the country and, possibly from next week, overseas.

He epitomes the dedication driving this Knights team to new heights this season. It was the rabid home crowd that helped get Newcastle home in an epic against Canberra on Sunday.

The hosts looked rudderless until Jack Wighton decided to snack on Tyson Gamble's arm, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Then, as their team looked to break the extra-time deadlock, it was fans who provided the voice and inspiration.

And Damo's flag was prominent throughout. He had been waving it since 2010, attending every home game and venturing down to Sydney and interstate for most away games.

He's now got a pleasant problem to tackle: how to get his 2.6m x 2.6m flag and pole across the ditch to New Zealand for next Saturday's semi-final against the Warriors. "I'm not sure (if I need special permission) as I've never taken it over to New Zealand before but I’ll have to try to make it happen," he told Yahoo Sport Australia.

"The reason I do it is because I love the team. I live and breathe Knights win lose or draw. It means everything to me."

And the players – both from the men's and women's teams – love Damo's passion in return. He often stands on the road outside the club's HQ, waving his giant flag, as the bus carrying the players heads to an away game.

He said: "I've been told my flag is a good luck charm. The players really appreciate the support." The Knights and Warriors are the two feel-good stories of 2023. It's a shame one of them has to disappear.

Cronulla Sharks' finals horror show

Cronulla are great at making it to finals. They’re just not great at winning them. The Sharks have played in nine finals matches since winning the premiership in 2016 for a solitary victory – a one-point win over Penrith in 2018.

Saturday night's 13-12 loss to the almost down-and-out Roosters just adds to the history of failure at the pointy end of the season. Look back through Cronulla's 56-year history and you'll see consistent Spring heartbreak.

There's the two grand final defeats in the 70s, a straight-sets exit in 1988 after they finished minor premiers and the 1997 Super League grand final defeat. In 1999, another minor premiership year, Anthony Mundine and the Dragons tore them a new one in the preliminary final.

Wade Graham and Sharks players, pictured here after their loss to the Roosters in the NRL finals.
Wade Graham and Sharks players look on after their loss to the Roosters. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The 2000s brought more September pain. There were losing prelim finals in 2001 and again in 2008. And who could forget 2015 when the Sharks travelled to Townsville to be towelled up 39-0 in a semi-final?

The 2016 campaign was an outlier for Cronulla – they won two finals games before clinching their one and only premiership. Normal transmission soon returned, with early exits following in 17, 18, 19, 20, 22 and now 23.

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage.

The Sharks have played 28 finals matches in the NRL era for just 10 wins. As one fan wrote on the club's Facebook page: "Every year same result, home final loss every year. As a supporter we know what to expect, it’s heartbreaking. We all get excited when we make the finals then history repeats itself. What squad can we put together to break this hoodoo."

Shark Park not only needs a redevelopment. Its needs a full-blown exorcism.

Souths cop huge Jack Wighton blow

They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Jack Wighton might have to take them on their word because he should be rubbed out for some time after mistaking Tyson Gamble's wrist for a slice of pizza during Newcastle's gripping elimination final win over Canberra.

A lengthy suspension would rule him out of new club South Sydney's 2024 premiership opener against Manly in Vegas. His chomp looked as clear cut as they come and Gamble was in no doubt about what had gone down.

Wighton was lucky not to be sent off but is looking at at least a month on the sideline if found guilty. Most former players commentating on the match called it for what it was – a bite – although there were a couple in the "he shouldn't have had his arm there" camp.

Even Ricky Stuart couldn't bring himself to mount a defence, instead urging journalists not to let the incident overshadow a great contest.

We can do both. It was a very ordinary incident in the midst of an outstanding contest.

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