Must-win mentality a bonus for Sharks
Cronulla captain Paul Gallen has put a positive spin on his side's sixth-place ladder finish by suggesting the "false sense of security" top four sides get with a guaranteed pass into the second week of the finals can be a a trap.
The Sharks had a golden chance to wrap up a top-four spot and a crucial second bite of the cherry when they hosted Manly on Sunday but fell just short in a 14-12 loss that sees them consigned to sixth and an elimination final against the struggling Rabbitohs, who are likely to be boosted by the return of Greg Inglis but set to lose George Burgess to suspension.
But Gallen said his side plays its best footy in must-win scenarios and is backing them to do the same next Sunday at Allianz Stadium.
"You look at last year, Canterbury finished seventh and made the grand final. I don't mind where we finish to be honest," Gallen said at the captains call on Monday.
"If you finish in the top four you may have that false sense of security that you do have two shots at it or two bites of the cherry. We don't have that now. We've played our best football this year when we've had to win. That's been our attitude for probably the last three months.
"We've seen that games we've had to win we have turned up and performed well so that's going to be our attitude certainly this week and if we get through this week we'll worry about next week."
In a further boost to the side's confidence despite a lacklustre showing in Round 26 is the knowledge the Sharks have beaten most of the other top eight sides this year, including two wins over minor premiers the Roosters.
"We've got a lot of confidence that if we turn up and play to our ability we can beat anyone. We've proven that all year," he said.
Another plus for Cronulla will be the return of the Fifita twins, Andrew and David, with each having served a six-week disciplinary suspension.
"Yeah they'll be back, the Fifitas will be back so I'm pretty sure Andrew will definitely be back – 125 kilos raring to go, I'm looking forward to having the big fella back," Gallen said.
He added the squad's unheralded outside backs would add plenty of spark despite concerns the team has struggled to score points this year.
"I think our whole backline [provide X-factor]. Valentine Holmes, Sosaia Feki, Gerard Beale I thought was pretty good [against Manly], they've all been great for us.
"When they play well the team generally plays well, they get our sets started and they obviously can score a lot of points. Val's certainly an X-Factor, no doubt about that."
Gallen backed inexperienced young stars like Holmes and Jack Bird to cope with the pressure of NRL finals football for the first time.
"I don't think it will worry them too much. Young guys these days don't seem to be fazed by anything so I'm not concerned about the way they'll turn up. Valentine Holmes has won two or three games for us off his boot this year with drop kicks and Birdy's just a young talent, he just loves playing football," Gallen said.