Pride drives Sharks towards top-10 finish
The Sharks' finals hopes are dead but season 2011 is still very much alive for Cronulla captain Paul Gallen, who is gunning for a top 10 finish and victory in his 200th game in the last round.
Currently in 12th spot (seven wins, 13 losses) with four games to play, Cronulla are just two wins from 10th place held by the Bulldogs, who must win tonight to keep their slim finals hopes alive.
A top-10 finish would be the Sharks' best result in the past 10 years outside of their finals appearances in 2002, 2005 and 2008 - they were 15th in 2009 and 14th in 2008. But a string of losses could just as easily have them in contention for their first wooden spoon since 1969.
Gallen, who turned 30 on Sunday, said the lure of a strong finish had provided plenty of motivation as the Sharks headed into the final month of the season.
"Although it's not good finishing ninth or 10th, we would like to finish ninth or 10th," Gallen said. "It doesn't matter if you win the competition or come last; a loss hurts just as bad. I know it does for me anyway.
"No matter where I'm coming or what game I'm in, I don't want to lose it. A lot of personal pride is going to have to take over for the next four weeks. I'd like to think everyone I'm playing with has a fair bit of it and is going to go out there and do their bit."
Gallen said coach Shane Flanagan had also emphasised the importance of playing for pride and to give departing players Luke Douglas and Kade Snowden a fitting send-off.
The Sharks skipper is particularly determined to win the last game of the season against Wests Tigers at Toyota Stadium on September 3, as the occasion will mark his 200th NRL game for Cronulla since making his first grade debut in June 2001.
"It would be nice … but playing the Wests Tigers starting to hit some form … we'll have to wait and see in three or four weeks' time how they are going by then, but it will be a big ask, last game of the year," he said.
"Hopefully we have enough pride in ourselves to put in a good performance and to have a win will be nice."
The 200-game milestone meant so much to Gallen that it motivated him to successfully fight a dangerous contact charge last week.
If he had taken the early plea, he would have missed tonight's game with a one-match suspension - although it would have given him an opportunity to rest his strained calf.
"I only found out (last) Tuesday morning … I was going to take the early guilty plea because of my calf. That was the major factor in fighting the charge. It's a pretty big milestone for me and I will be pretty proud that night," he said.
Gallen was charged in the Sharks' season-ending loss to the Titans in round 23; a match he played despite carrying a calf injury. It emerged that he risked not playing again for the season if the injury flared up again but Gallen said the decision to play was his own.
"I wouldn't say I had pressure from the club … obviously they wanted me to play, but if I was good enough to play I was going to play," he said.
"I felt like I could get through the game. I'm pretty confident I know my own body ... I put a lot of effort in and to come away unrewarded is pretty disappointing.
"It was probably a risk playing and now I will probably struggle a bit with the calf and a few others things are starting to niggle now. I am not running normally and favouring my calf a little so it's starting to get frustrating. But it was something I thought I had to do and I was quite happy to do it."
Despite the discomfort, Gallen is confident the injury will not impact on his performance against the Bulldogs on Monday night.
"I don't think so; once I'm out there I'm fine," he said. "It's more at the end of the game and two or three days later is when I start to feel things. I'm sure if a trainer came out and tried to take me off I wouldn't come anyway, unless things were really desperate."