Cronulla's first week NRL finals loss to Sydney Roosters came back to bite them, with Sharks coach Shane Flanagan admitting 2018 would go down as a wasted opportunity.
Seen as the competition's dark horse by many during the run-in to September, Cronulla's hopes of a second title were flushed by Melbourne on Friday night in their 22-6 loss.
A top-eight team since May, the Sharks dropped only four games in the last 19 rounds of the regular season to finish fourth before winning just one of three finals matches.
In a nightmare trip to Melbourne, the Sharks had 52 per cent of the ball and had the better of the territorial battle but completed at just 68 per cent and could only manage a late consolation try.
"It's an opportunity missed," Flanagan said when asked about his team's season.
"You get to these grand final qualifiers and you want to play your best football.
"And the disappointing thing is we didn't today."
Flanagan was also left to lament being forced to do it the hard way after their loss to the Roosters, where the Sharks were largely the better team.
Captain Paul Gallen was injured in last week's intense and nail-biting semi-final win over Penrith, while Flanagan also revealed five-eighth Matt Moylan sprained his ankle in the lead-up to the Melbourne loss.
Without co-captains Gallen and Wade Graham and with Josh Dugan injured, the Sharks lacked composure in both attack and defence in the first half and fell to an almost game-deciding 20-0 deficit at half-time.
"That week off at the end of a tough season, 24 or 25 rounds then a pretty tough semi-final - I know we would've appreciated it last week," Flanagan said.
"We'll never know if we would've come down here with all our troops whether we get the result or not."
Australian Associated Press