Robson happy all eyes on Carney
He’s the Cronulla Sharks’ unsung hero and, for halfback Jeff Robson, that’s exactly the way he likes it. Playing alongside the likes of rep stars past and present including Michael Gordon, Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita and, in particular, Todd Carney, Robson receives few plaudits – a but it’s not a worry for the Eels’ 2009 grand final halfback.
The evergreen No.7, who turned 29 on Monday and recently signed a two-year extension at the club, plays a vital role in the Sharks’ side – even if his opponents overlook the Leeton junior and nominate Cronulla’s five-eighth Carney as their most dangerous weapon.
“It doesn’t really worry me that [opponents] see Toddy as the biggest threat because he’s a great player and he’s certainly shown why he is that great player – I’m just happy to fly under the radar and do my job for the team,” Robson tells NRL.com ahead of the Sharks’ crucial clash with Newcastle at Remondis Stadium on Saturday night.
“If I’m doing that, Toddy can play off the back of that and also our bigger boys rolling forward for us... it certainly makes my job a lot easier.”
This season the Sharks have done superbly to push aside myriad off-field distractions and consolidate a position in the top eight. For Robson, whose no-frills fighting qualities in many ways embody the club’s spirit, his sixth-placed team’s determination has been outstanding – but there’s plenty of improvement ahead.
“We work hard for each other on the field and we’re all a close bunch of mates… and that’s saved us in a few games,” Robson, who debuted for the Sea Eagles against Cronulla in 2004, says.
“I wouldn’t say that we’ve been great over the past year but we’ve been winning games that have probably been ugly wins but that’s a credit to the boys sticking together and working hard for one another.”
In his second season in the Shire, Robson says last year’s Finals Week One exit in Canberra doesn’t sit well with him or the Sharks’ inner sanctum – and he believes the side of 2013 are better equipped to go deeper this September.
“I’d like to think we have [learnt and improved from last year],” Robson says.
“That was pretty disappointing for us to go down there and get knocked out first week of the finals. I thought we had a great team last year and we probably should have went further into the finals series. I think we’ve got a better team this year and if we can keep playing consistent footy and keep getting better this week I think we can push to the back-end of the finals series and hopefully the grand final.”
His final two words in that sentence – ‘grand final’ – shouldn’t be taken lightly, either. Robson knows all about ‘GFs’ having appeared in the 2009 decider against Melbourne, an experience he rates as the highlight of his career. And he reckons, because of increased maturity and the influence of the man outside him, Carney, he’s a better all-round player now, too.
“I think I’m more level-headed and I’ve certainly learned a lot more since four or five years ago,” Robson, who, after a lull across 2010 and 2011, is now averaging the same number of runs per game as he did in 2009, says.
“I think I’ve played pretty consistent footy over that four or five years. Playing alongside Toddy has also helped my game; I think I just steady the ship and direct us around the field and he chimes in and he’s got a really good running game and that complements my game as well. I’ve just been enjoying playing alongside him and also the team.
“I just go out there and try to play what I see and if I see a half-gap I’ll try and take it... and that happens more in one game than it does another. I’ve just got to do my job for the team which is get us around the field and be assertive and our communication on the field has to be good… and if I’m doing that our team is generally playing well.”
The one thing Cronulla have struggled with in 2013, though, is scoring points against top-four opponents. Despite beating South Sydney in Round 11, they’re yet to register more than 18 points against the finals-assured Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Storm this season.
But it doesn’t faze Robson.
“I didn’t know that stat to be honest – but I don’t think it’s a worry,” Robson says.
“We can score points, it’s generally in those games [against the top four] we’ve made a lot of errors. You can’t do that against good sides or you’ll pay and that’s where that stat comes from.
“In those games against good sides we’ve made a lot of errors and put ourselves under a lot of pressure. If we want to go anywhere towards the back-end of the year we really need to fix up our errors and our missed tackles and I think the rest of it will look after itself.
“We’re still working on our game and can still get a lot better… if we keep working hard and fixing up our game we can definitely beat the top sides and push into the back-end of the finals and hopefully the grand final, too.”
First, though, the Knights await – and, as Robson expects each week, they’re more worried about shutting down his playmaking sidekick than they are stopping Cronulla’s No.7.
“He’s a quality player Toddy,” Knights playmaker Jarrod Mullen said earlier this week.
“If we shut [Carney] down it’ll go a long way to shutting the whole [Cronulla] team down.”
And that’s music to the ears of Jeff Robson.