Top teams won't take Shark bait: Brown
They have claimed some of the biggest scalps of the season but former Dragons coach Nathan Brown doesn't believe the Sharks' style of scrapping their way to wins will hold up under the pressure of finals football.
Despite starting the season with four straight losses the Sharks' two-point win over the Bulldogs last Sunday saw them climb into sixth spot on the ladder and needing three wins from their final six games to secure a finals berth.
They face a tough assignment in New Zealand on Saturday when they take on the Warriors minus the two Fifita brothers but have shown time and again a willingness to fight even harder when their backs are to the wall.
Two of the Roosters' six losses this season have come at the hands of Cronulla but Brown doesn't believe those top teams will fall for the same niggling tactics during the Telstra Premiership Finals Series.
"There hasn't been a team that has won more games as an underdog than Cronulla," Brown says in the Round 21 issue of Big League.
"They have the ability to make the big guns fall apart and, as a result, the Sharks tend to come out on top in scrappy games.
"In Paul Gallen, Wade Graham and Mick Ennis – who has been one of the best players in the competition this year – they have some great competitors that can niggle away and get opposition players off their game. In contrast, they struggle in open, flowing games.
"They've beaten the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Cowboys every time they've played them this year, with three of those four games comprising of 32 points in the match or less.
"The problem for the Sharks is that the better teams, when at full-strength, aren't likely to fall into this trap in September.
"Their attack can become devoid of points and they're yet to score more than 30 points in a match this season. Whenever they've been in trouble, they've generally scored from inside 20 off an Ennis pass or kick. The better sides will minimise how often the Sharks get in this zone."
The introduction of rookie Jack Bird immediately injected life into a Sharks that can often look as though it is floundering but Brown has pin-pointed a talented winger as having the key to unlock their point-scoring.
"From the outside looking in, I'd love to see Valentine Holmes spend more time at fullback," says Brown. "Ben Barba playing off the bench has been a masterstroke from Shane Flanagan, but Holmes is one of their best attacking weapons.
"There must be some reason why they aren't playing him there, whether it’s a lack of fitness or experience, but it's something I'd like to see them experiment with. Holmes at fullback and around the ball more would help improve Cronulla's attack."
The Round 21 issue of Big League is on sale now at newsagents and at the ground. Digital version also available at Zinio.