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Frustrated stand-in Sharks skipper Wade Graham says he’s sick of talking about the refs – but believes the whistle blowers are in as poor form as his own struggling team.
Speaking after his side’s 36-18 loss to the Cowboys at Remondis Stadium on Friday night – a match in which there were 19 penalties blown, favouring the home side 11-8, as well as a handful of contentious rulings – Graham couldn’t hide his frustration.
“I hate to say it; there's no shying away from the fact that we're struggling as a team, we've had not the best season but mate, the men in the middle are on par with us,” he said.
“The consistency, the decision making, [whether it’s] over-confidence or under-confidence – it's frustrating as a player when in the game, let alone week to week, when there's inconsistencies in the game.
“The ruck was all over the shop. It's very frustrating. We can't use that as an excuse, at the end of the day we weren't good enough. We didn't win. But I tell you what, we're struggling and so are they.”
There was a controversial second-half try awarded to Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston after stripping the ball from Cronulla fullback Michael Gordon a fraction of a second after the initial defender had fallen off the tackle. It was sent up as a no-try but overturned by the video ref on the basis there was only ever one defender in contact with Gordon, so the one-on-one strip was fair.
“The frustrating thing is we see that decision tonight, and we'll probably see another game over the weekend, where the same thing will come up and it'll be a different decision, that's what's most frustrating as a player,” Graham said.
“There's no use harping on it because at the end of the day what's happened has happened.”
But he added it was frustrating that it seemed like most fixtures finished with the captain speaking about the officiating after the game.
“The game deserves better than talking about this. We should be talking about JT [Johnathan Thurston] playing well or something else about the game, instead we're here talking about that.”
He added there is no dialogue with the referees on the field, making it hard to get an answer to queries.
“You can't talk to them. You try and it's just too frustrating. Maybe I've got to fix my approach up when I talk to them but it's hard to keep your head calm when you're in the game. I don't want to say no more on that, I've had my say on that, let's talk about the game.”
On the game, he said the side started slowly (they were behind 10-0 before their first touch of the ball) and the Cowboys were able to capitalise on some early mistakes.
“But I thought we fought our way back before halftime, worked hard to put ourselves back into the game but a few crucial errors in the second half, a few penalties at the wrong time, we sort of took the momentum away from ourselves.
Stand-in coach James Shepherd said there were some similar themes still coming up for the side, including big momentum shifts and not being able to handle them.
“I thought they fought really hard to get back into the contest and showed some spirit. We went in at halftime pretty positive but early in that second half we probably didn't make the most of our opportunities and when it went against us we didn't handle it so well,” Shepherd said.
“We've got to be better technically in certain areas. When it's going against you your defence is under pressure. Technically, we're not winning enough tackles. That's part of our issue; that we're giving up some metres.”
He said while it would be easy to point the finger at the last player to miss a tackle the damage was often done earlier in the set with some sloppy efforts to hand momentum to the opposition before the crucial missed tackle.
“We worked on a number of things defensively this week and aside from the errors it cost us tries there. [It was] a little bit disappointing, the two they scored underneath the posts, to be honest.”