Back in the fold and in the hunt
HE MAY be a warhorse scarred by long campaigns against hostile forces, but Ben Ross feels as frisky as a young colt.
The prodigal son has returned to his old Sutherland Shire fortress at Cronulla in preparation for the start of the 2012 NRL season, his sabre rattling.
Back on the Sunshine Coast for the Christmas break, the Nambour Crushers product spoke to the Daily yesterday about the shock of rejuvenation he had experienced after inking a two-year deal with his former club.
He also spoke effusively about the long-suffering Sharks' chances of success next season, insisting the club now possessed the personnel to "shake the NRL up".
With the club having been reinforced by new signings - including discarded Rooster Todd Carney, Wests Tigers duo Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita and Newcastle's Isaac de Gois - Ross believes it has the potential to play finals football for the first time since 2008 if it can harness that talent.
"I'M going back (after Christmas) to prove a point. I know the team can do something special," the veteran prop said.
"Hopefully, I'm there when we do it."
The 31-year-old, who might have signed his last NRL contract, played 45 times for Cronulla between 2006-09.
Cronulla helped transform him into the player he became, but it was also the club where his career almost ended when he suffered a serious neck injury in the opening round in 2009.
He was a millimetre away from being left paralysed for life and after almost two years of rehabilitation following surgery, he returned to play for the South Sydney Rabbitohs this year after signing with the club in 2010 and taking a baseline pay cut of more than $350,000.
And what a season it was, with Ross averaging more than 100 metres a game while playing every match.
It was Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen who convinced him to return to the Sharks, following a chance encounter at a shopping mall.
"He's one of the main reasons I came back to Cronulla," former Queensland Origin star Ross said.
"He was pushing me to come back. So I've got the respect of the captain and one of the world's best players. It's exciting to go back and play with him."
Ross said wild child Carney was thriving at the Sharks because of his "phenomenal" ability and had provided the side with a much-needed x-factor.