Sharp's Sharks prove their point
Less than a week after having his commitment to the cause questioned, Cronulla coach Peter Sharp has lauded the leadership of Sharks captain Paul Gallen through another tumultuous week for the club that ended in an extraordinary 24-22 win over the Broncos on Friday night.
Trailing 22-0 and with their scoreless run extended beyond eight halves of football, Cronulla turned the blowtorch that has been seemingly permanently placed on them for the past 18 months onto the Broncos' defence with a period of 12 of 13 sets midway through the second half.
Their sustained period of pressure resulted in three tries in the space of 10 minutes with Sosaia Feki's match-winner six minutes from full-time allowing them to climb off the bottom of the NRL ladder, if only momentarily.
Winless since Round 8, the relationship between captain and coach was given its greatest test when Gallen suggested last Sunday that the players were cutting corners because the coach wasn't 100 per cent committed to the role. Sharing the press conference stage however in the immediate aftermath of an unlikely win, the pair presented a united front and Sharp went out of his way to praise his most high-profile player who finished the game with an astonishing 223 metres, 38 tackles and a crucial try.
"I've got to say, the leadership shown by the captain this week was outstanding, from my point of view. He led from the front in all areas and it was magnificent. It's what great players do and he did that this week for us," Sharp said.
"The leadership through the week was enormous. How he conducted himself, how he spoke to [the players], how he ran things."
From the outside looking in, Gallen's honesty seemed to have a uniting effect on the playing group and despite a first half where they committed costly errors and went in trailing 16-0, the skipper never doubted they could drag themselves out of the mire.
"Winning solves everything and we won so hopefully we can get a bit of confidence," Gallen said. "Tough game next week against the Roosters with a couple of players out but if we stick to the structures that we did [against Brisbane] we'll more than compete and you never know what can happen the rest of the year.
"We weren't that bad in the first half. We were going really well and going set for set but a couple of our experienced players came up with some silly plays when we just had to complete and a couple of penalties and seven-tackle sets, it just makes it too hard
"Anyone's going to score with that sort of possession and that's what we said at half-time, if we can just get some even ball and maybe get an early try we'll see what happens and that's what we did the second half.
"[At half-time] I saw a real tough group of guys who weren't playing real smart. That's as simple as what it was and that's what we said. We're all tough, we're all first grade rugby league players, but we're at the level where you've got to play smart and dropping the ball and giving penalties away on the fourth tackle, that's not smart, and we didn't do that the second half."
Having had only 45 per cent of possession in the first half, the Sharks were able to score their first points in 324 minutes of footy on the back of three sets on the Broncos' line with halves Todd Carney and Jeff Robson forcing the home side into four drop-outs.
Friday night was just the sixth time all season and the first time since Round 10 that Carney and Robson had made up the Sharks' halves pairing and Sharp said their influence on the team and their work as a combination should not be underestimated.
"Massive for me. I know everybody probably thinks it's an excuse, and it is, but for me, they've hardly trained together in 10 weeks," Sharp said of his first-choice halves pairing.
"They wouldn't have spent two sessions together in 10 weeks. They only spent one together this week so hopefully next week we can get a full week under our belt with the two halves there.
"It just makes an enormous difference for us. 'Robbo' has a great influence on Todd around the park, steadies him down and gives him direction and allows Todd to play his natural game.
"To have them both back and training will be a massive bonus for us."