Veteran hooker John Morris believes Cronulla can contain Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and company in their clash with the rejuvenated Wests Tigers at Remondis Stadium tonight – if they simply overcome their error-riddled ways and limit their opposition opportunities.
Michael Potter’s men have won four of their past five matches including last week’s 22-4 shock against the Storm, but Morris says his sixth-placed team isn’t worried about the Tigers’ record or roster – just about fulfilling their own potential.
“It’s been a short turnaround so it’s been all about getting ourselves right physically and getting our heads around a big game at home… and just worrying about what we’re doing,” Morris, a 277-game NRL mainstay, says.
“They’re huge threats – and we’ve got them when they’re in form, too. We had them at the start when we played them at [Allianz, a 30-6 win] and they were going through a tough time with about 11 players on the sideline, but they’ve got the majority of them back now and their key players are in some form on the back of three or four wins. We know they’ll be up for this one.”
The versatile Morris, who has played hooker, halfback, five-eighth, on the wing and off the bench in 13 years of first grade at Newcastle, Parramatta, the Tigers and Cronulla, says the Sharks’ squad of 2013 is as good as any he’s been a part of – that is, when errors don’t stifle their attacking football.
“When we play to our potential and get it right we’re definitely as good as those sides I played in… like the (title-winning) ’01 Knights even though they had blokes like Johns and Buderus steering you around,” Morris says of his team that ranks first for metres gained but only 13th for points scored.
“When we’re playing to our best we’ve just got that many threats across the park with a really good forward pack. Blokes like Todd Carney and Michael Gordon offer that spark and X-factor in attack which not a lot of teams have got.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve played in when we play to our potential. Our challenge is just to be consistent – we’ve enjoyed some glimpses but the challenge is doing it consistently.
“It’s probably just been our errors [limiting the progress] – I think we’re last or second last in the competition for the number of errors with the footy. That just cruels any team – if we’re making that many errors we’re not giving ourselves an opportunity of getting down their end and playing some footy. The games we’ve won – some games we’ve won really well, we’ve blitzed a few teams and shown all that we can do in attack – but it’s [limiting the errors] we are working on.”
The 32-year-old, currently unsigned for next season, predicts it’s only a matter of time before a deal is done that ties him to the club for another season.
“I’m off contract but hopefully looking at extending it at the Sharks. At the moment that’s the focus – I’ve told ‘Flanno’ (coach Shane Flanagan) and ‘Noycey’ (football manager Steve Noyce) that I’m keen to sign another contract here and they’ve indicated they’re happy to keep me so hopefully we can do that in the next week or two,” Morris says.
“Our schedules have made it hard with travelling to Townsville and a short week this week, but it’s definitely on the cards… getting something sorted for next year.”
As the sun starts to set on a long and prosperous career, Morris says there’s just one more thing he wants to achieve – the level of success that’s so far eluded him.
“I started my career in 2001, was 18th man for the Knights when they beat Parramatta and it was amazing to be a part of it but you’re 18th man and you didn’t get on the field,” Morris, currently completing his masters and ultimately aiming to end up in the NRL coaching ranks, says.
“When you’re younger you think [finals football’s] going to come around often, that that’s the ‘norm’ playing in those big games but I’ve learned since then that they’re pretty rare. I had another really good shot in 2005 at Parramatta when we were minor premiers and we lost the grand final qualifier to the Cowboys, we got flogged 29-0. You look back on those opportunities, particularly the 2005 one, and they just really hurt you, so for me my focus has always been on winning the premiership and that hasn’t changed. Hopefully that can be in the next year or so at the Sharks.”
But for now, Morris, the players’ professional renowned for his dedication to training and preparation leading into games, says his focus is solely on Friday night’s match – and beating the 14th-placed Tigers. He admits it’s going to be far from easy.
“They like to play a quick game through the middle, then Robbie and Benji play off the back of that so it’s a big challenge for the forwards in the middle but it’s about controlling the ball and possession and getting through the sets, too.”