Todd Carney is still haunted by a 48-minute semi-final performance when Cronulla crashed out of last year's finals campaign, in arguably their worst effort of 2012.
By rights, Carney shouldn't have played in the 34-16 loss to the Raiders at Canberra Stadium, which ended the Sharks' 2012 campaign. Struggling with an Achilles heel injury, Carney played but eventually was carried from the field after tearing the tendon in an uncharacteristically lacklustre performance.
Now Carney is battling with a hamstring injury, having missed the past two matches as the Sharks prepare to face North Queensland on Saturday afternoon.
"For me it burns me not finishing the game," Carney said of the loss to Canberra. "It was a what if or how far we could've gone if I didn't get injured for myself. It's burning me to play well on Saturday and to try and get as far as we can and get that final prize."
Carney rates himself a "90 per cent" chance of lining up against the Cowboys after re-joining his teammates for a light training run on Wednesday. He will have a final hit-out on Friday but declared he won't make the same mistake as last year by playing if he isn't at full fitness.
"I was talking about it with my mum the other day and she said that, 'At this time of the year you're always a bit busted'," Carney said. "I have said to myself that if I wasn't 100 per cent I wouldn't go into the game like I did last year because, [while] I didn't let the team down, we didn't have a back up for me last year. And that probably hurt us a little bit.
"I'm not cautious about the hamstring. I wouldn't go into the game if it was still worrying me. I've trained and done everything everyone has asked of me."
Carney said he tried but was "no chance" of playing in Cronulla's last-start 38-18 win against Canberra on Sunday night. Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan rated Carney and teammate Andrew Fifita as certain starters despite Fifita playing just 23 minutes against Canberra after inflaming a niggling calf problem that he has carried in recent weeks.
Back-rowers Wade Graham, Anthony Tupou and Jayson Bukuya will also play after being rested for the Raiders clash. Fifita didn't train with the side on Wednesday but is expected to join the squad on Friday. The Sharks are wary of an in-form Cowboys side which has beaten Cronulla twice this year.
Carney, who didn't play in the 31-18 loss in the penultimate round of the regular season, has seen enough of the old magic from Matt Bowen and Johnathan Thurston in recent weeks to know they will be Cronulla's most dangerous opponents at Allianz Stadium.
"I watched them two nights ago and the way Bowen and Thurston are playing on opposite sides of the field so you've got to counteract both of them," Carney said. "It's going to be a big occasion, I'm sure it'll be won in the middle."