Prior praised for inspiring performance
Matt Prior has been one of Cronulla's unsung heroes throughout 2016, but on Saturday night in their biggest game of the year, he stood taller than ever before to inspire his side to an upset 16-14 win over the Canberra Raiders.
With Paul Gallen (back) ruled out on the morning of the match, and stand-in skipper Wade Graham (concussion) forced off after seven minutes, Prior was forced to play 73 minutes; easily his biggest output of the year.
He finished the game with a whopping 233 metres from 22 carries, 37 tackles, a try and a crucial offload that led to his side's only other four-pointer in a heroic man-of-the-match performance.
With his side down by 12 points, Prior turned the game on its head with a crucial try two minutes before the interval that gave the Sharks much-needed momentum heading into the second half.
His Herculean performance didn't go unnoticed, with Michael Ennis describing it as one of the best games he's seen from a front-rower.
"His form throughout the year has been exceptional," Ennis said.
"He plays in a side where there are good forwards with great reputations in Gallen and Fifita and Graham and Lewis, and a lot of his stuff goes unnoticed. He's been outstanding for us all year.
"For a front-rower to change the momentum of the game at 38 minutes after playing 38 straight is as good as I've seen from a front-rower.
"In semi-finals there are always moments, and you need to make sure you're in the frame when they arise. Matt Prior was that in the first half and he changed the momentum heading into half-time. From there the spirits lifted."
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan chimed in, adding how influential Prior had been in Gallen's stead.
"He had to play big minutes. I'm not too sure about the total at the end but I had to hang him out there for a long time because of the injury to Wade and not having Gal out there so I couldn't be prouder."
Speaking to media after the win, Prior said the onus was on the rest of the forward pack to lift with key personnel missing.
"It was a massive game from me. With Gallen out I think a bit of extra responsibility was put on the boys and I just had to try to lead the way," he said.
"We've had a few games during the year that Gal's been out and everyone lifted. We know that's what you have to do when Gal's out because he does so much of the work so everyone has to lift and do that extra bit to do Gal's role."
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