Sharks admit Ennis factor a key in Raiders loss
Cronulla's halves are under no illusions that the absence of senior rake Michael Ennis was a big factor in their disappointing loss to Canberra last weekend and are understandably desperate to see him recover from a virus in time to face the Dragons.
While James Maloney and Chad Townsend were both disappointed in their own games and insist the team overall needed to play better – particularly in defence after leaking 30 points against an impressive Raiders outfit – Ennis's presence both on and off the ball will be a welcome boost this weekend.
His absence was made even more stark by the incredible form of Canberra's hooker Josh Hodgson, who produced arguably the best individual 40 minutes of football of any player this season as the Green Machine shot out to a big half-time lead.
"I knew we were going to miss him to be honest; I found out the morning of the game that he was no good and I sent him a text saying 'we'll miss you mate'," halfback Chad Townsend said from Sharks training on Tuesday.
"He's that type of guy, I've learnt a lot being here off him and his leadership and his football is second to none, he's just a pleasure to play with. He does a lot around the ruck with the forwards for me and Jimmy and takes a lot of pressure off us. We definitely missed him."
While Ennis sat out most of Tuesday's training as the club monitors his workload after missing the Canberra match with a virus, he is not thought to be in doubt for the Dragons game by his teammates.
"I think they're still taking a bit of precaution with him. Obviously he lost a bit of weight there and his energy levels are still a bit hampered I think," Townsend said.
"He'll be given a lot of time and I'm sure, we've got a session [Wednesday] afternoon and he'll do a bit more then, then come the end of the week I think he'll be ready to go."
Five-eighth James Maloney was also looking forward to welcoming the retiring veteran back into the game-day 17.
"We missed him as he gives you a lot of stability and direction around the middle. It's hard to replace players like that, especially last minute," Maloney said.
"So it's nice to have him back and let's hope he puts in a big one like he does every week."
Maloney said Ennis's subtleties around the ruck were missed against Canberra.
"You always know when you're missing a good hooker as they have an effect. They're the first person to touch the ball every time and they're the ones that make sure it's going the right way," Maloney added.
"I knew it would be a challenge without him and the way the game panned out, it highlighted that even more."
Townsend admitted the damage Hodgson did in the first half last week highlighted the issue further.
"That was probably one of the most disappointing things with the game, [Hodgson] made us look like we were nothing. Our forwards were pretty disappointed and I know our edges were as well and that's an area we need to improve on moving towards the semi-finals," Townsend said.