Sharks' backs need to improve: Gallen
Faced with the prospect of marking up against the red-hot Canberra backline, Cronulla's own outside backs need to recapture the form they showed earlier in the year, according to Sharks skipper Paul Gallen.
Speaking at Allianz Stadium on Monday morning for the 2016 finals series launch, Gallen said the Raiders backline had leapfrogged Cronulla's in terms of potency over the past month or two.
Sharks wingers Valentime Holmes and Sosaia Feki have had outstanding years with 18 and 13 tries respectively, but Canberra flanker Jordan Rapana (20, second best) has them both covered. Centre Jarrod Croker also boasts 17 and is the season's top point scorer with 276.
In terms of tackle busts, Rapana (127, second) and his right-edge partner Joey Leilua (127, fifth) easily have the Sharks backs covered with centre Jack Bird (70) the best.
"Our back five were the best in the comp a month or so ago and probably Canberra have overtaken that," was Gallen's blunt assessment just a day after the potent Canberra backs put the Wests Tigers to the sword in a 52-10 demolition at Leichhardt Oval.
"We need our outside backs to find their form quickly and if they do that and our middle do their job against their big boys it will be a good game," he added.
"We need our blokes who were on top of the league six or eight weeks ago, we need them to be back there again."
Asked if they were up to that challenge, Gallen simply added "they'll have to be".
Canberra's 30-14 win over the Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium in Round 22 was Cronulla's first loss since Round 3 and though they've had three more losses since Gallen was simply hoping for a better start when his team travels to the nation's capital for Saturday's second-versus-third qualifying final.
"We didn't start well against them. They got an early try from a kick; [Sharks coach Shane Flanagan] was pretty disappointed with a couple of their tries," Gallen said.
"They're a big physical side and you've got to go set for set with them, you can't give them repeat sets of six or turn the ball over too cheaply and we just believe if we can go set for set with them and have an even share of ball and complete at a high completion rate we'll be ok.
"We've got a good record in Canberra, we don't mind going down there so we're looking forward to going down there and hopefully getting a win. Then obviously because we did finish top four we'd get the week off and all of a sudden we're playing to be in a grand final so really looking forward to it."
Despite just one win to show from their past five starts, Gallen said he felt the club entered the finals in reasonable shape.
"We're going ok. Obviously the way we played on the weekend [against Melbourne] wasn't ideal, we weren't happy with the way we played and just turned over too much ball but we've got to take the positives out of the year," he said.
"Had you told us before the season started we'd be playing for the minor premiership Round 26 we probably would have taken it. Finishing top four was our goal and that's what we've done so as we all know it's a new competition now and we're looking forward to it.
"I think the scoreline (26-6) probably didn't reflect quite how hard the game was the other night; it was a pretty tough game.
"We had opportunities and just that final pass didn't stick and I think if it had have a couple of times we could have given the Storm more of a scare but it didn't stick, our completion rate was really low."
Despite a few recent losses Gallen laughed off suggestions of panic within the playing group.
"There's no panic in us whatsoever. There hasn't been. We had two losses and I think everyone was carrying on about doom and gloom but there was no panic amongst the boys whatsoever," he said.
"We're just looking forward to training this week and going down there and just playing to our potential, that's what we want to do. If we play to our potential we can beat anyone."