Sharks' final 400 days in waiting for duo

·3-min read

Cameron McInnes' preparations for his first finals series with Cronulla began 14 months ago while his own team were some 1000km away in Queensland.

So too did Wade Graham's push for a finals return for the Sharks, after concussions forced him out of the NRL bubble last season and into recovery in Sydney.

For any player, the NRL season is long enough with 25 rounds, finals and up to four months of pre-season training before that.

But for the likes of McInnes, Graham and others who were ruled out of last season early, the run to this year's finals has been even longer.

Still contracted to St George Illawarra at the time, McInnes was left with nothing to train for at the Dragons when COVID forced the NRL to move to Queensland last July.

On the advice of Dragons staff, McInnes pushed for the chance to join Cronulla's rehabilitation group as he fought back from a knee reconstruction.

A landmark deal was done in that McInnes was still a Dragons employee being paid by the club, while Cronulla would cover any extra costs or requirements.

"It was cool because I know there's some legality stuff that made it hard, but they made it happen for me," McInnes told AAP.

"When you consider that COVID was a thing, that was the best circumstances I could have had.

"I was never going to go to Queensland. I knew that I was changing clubs. Had I gone to Queensland, my family wouldn't have come.

"So for me I got to come over to the new environment early, be with my family. And then I was away from (the NRL) it so I didn't feel like I was missing out."

The benefits were there on the field too.

McInnes got to work with Cronulla's Dave Garrick three days a week, while other Sharks players like Franklin Pele and Josh Dugan came and went, joining he and Graham.

"I'm so happy for 'Wadeo' as well because I was with him every day and I know he would've loved to be in Queensland," McInnes said.

"It was a very long pre-season, sure. But I obviously got myself right.

"It's felt like I've just been focused on footy for a long time now. But this is why we do it. It's all worth it coming to this point of the year."

Graham admitted the two months while the NRL was based in Queensland was the most separated he had felt from the game, with McInnes a very welcome addition at Woolooware.

"Anyone who knows Cam knows he doesn't take shortcuts ... so he certainly gave me someone to chase here for a long time," Graham said.

"It was just different. I knew I was still a part of the club and the game but because it's so far away and you're not doing it every day

"But I needed to have the break."