Unheralded Sharks forwards step up
Sharks trio David Fifita, Matt Prior and Sam Tagataese may be the lesser-known members of coach Shane Flanagan's engine room, but their importance to the team is greatly understated.
Cronulla boast one of the best forward packs in the NRL. Between the forwards named for this weekend's clash for North Queensland, they have played a combined 47 State of Origins for New South Wales and 56 Tests for Australia (or in Chris Heighington's case England). Prior, Tagataese and Fifita have contributed nothing to these tallies.
While the trio's combined metres per game are fewer than Paul Gallen's individual averaged metres, the challenge of getting the ball away from notorious ball-runners Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham is a huge feat in itself.
When NRL.com asked David Fifita about trying to pry the ball away from his brother, his captain and vice-captain – he couldn't help but laugh.
"It's a fight when you get on there," Fifita laughed. "But you only really have one job and that's to go forward and Flanno just wants me to go forward. Use my big body to get metres and over the advantage line.
"One of us [Matt, Sam or I] has to take one for the team. It just comes down to one of us. If we can get good play the balls consecutively and just make the ruck quicker and quicker then it makes us look good.
"It also gives us plenty of opportunities for the backs to spread it out wide. We have to get to where the halves want us. It's a team sport so if we can get that right then it'll work out best for the rest of team."
While their minutes on the field largely dictate their statistic outputs, Fifita especially has been outstanding considering he is just 13 games into his career.
As Prior and Tagataese look towards 150 NRL games, Fifita's 77.7 metres and 14.7 tackles per game have been a welcomed addition.
"I'm feeling great. I've been out for the past couple of years with injuries - bad feet - but this year is going great," Fifita said.
"I expected to go through the NSW Cup and just try and earn my spot but [Flanagan] has given me a shot from the start, so I'm just trying to hold it now and do the small things that count."
The ninth-placed Sharks are gearing up to face North Queensland, who are riding high off the back of an 11-game winning streak.
Their task is to put an end to the streak.
"We're here to stop North Queensland's run," Fifita said. "We're on the home stretch now and we're trying to get into the top eight so we're looking to go one step further."