Sharks discover blueprint for victory
It was the lightbulb moment that took 17 rounds to hit home, but the Sharks are confident they've finally found the blueprint to resurrect their premiership defence.
It's not like the Sharks are reinventing the wheel either, with halfback Chad Townsend calling on his team to emulate the ball-handling that underpinned their last-start win over the Roosters.
Cronulla average 11.6 errors per game in 2017 – coincidentally the equal most in the NRL alongside the Roosters – and it's their lack of discipline with ball in hand that has hurt them at times this season, namely their Round 16 loss to the Sea Eagles that saw them complete just 65 per cent of their sets en route to a 35-18 shellacking at home.
Their inability to hold onto the ball is a far cry from the side that marched through last year's finals series, but there were signs against the Roosters that they might have turned things around.
The Sharks were a perfect 19/19 in the first half and finished the game with an impressive 89 per cent completion rate as they totally outplayed the Tricolours 44-12.
"I think that's probably our blueprint moving forward," Townsend said.
"For us, we completed our first 22 sets of the game, and for us that's unheard of. It was truly an amazing way for us to start the game, and I know it's probably not going to happen again like that, but for us to hold the ball and really get to our kicks every time and put pressure on the opposition coming out of their own end, it puts us in good stead.
"It was a really big wake-up call against Manly and something that I think we definitely needed.
"We probably got a little bit comfortable with the way we were going about our business so we had a good look at ourselves and what we were doing and things we needed to change.
"We've probably been cruising along and playing probably not our best footy, but we've still been winning some games. When you do win, you probably don't address everything you need to do. If we were to take a loss out of some of the games then I think it probably would have been a bit different.
"We came out and addressed those areas and I thought everyone as a team collectively did their jobs really well and it was a great way to bounce back.
"Not much changed structurally or tactically, it was definitely holding the ball. Some of our error rates this year have been phenomenal. Sometimes we've made 17 errors in a game and that's outrageous.
"Our error rate has been nowhere where it needs to be, and in turn we haven't scored the tries that we know we can score or that we scored last year."
The Sharks' return to form will count for little if they can't back it up on Saturday night against a Titans side that has troubled them in recent times and is desperate for a win to keep their top eight hopes alive.
Cronulla's 15-game winning streak came to an end on the Gold Coast last year when they were held to a thrilling 18-all draw while the Titans snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Round 8 when Leivaha Pulu touched down late to stun the Sharks.
Townsend stopped short of saying the Titans were their bogey side but conceded Saturday's game would be a stern test, especially with question marks hovering over the availability of their State of Origin quintet.
"The game at the start of the year, we could have quite easily won that game," he said.
"There was a loose ball on the far touchline that I didn't dive on and I really took that hard [because] the big fella, Pulu, managed to get the ball back and score the try and they won just like that out of nothing.
"They're a team that don't die wondering; they really hang around and challenge you. They don't lose the game; they hang around so it's going to be a big challenge for us. They are sitting just outside the eight so I've got no doubt they'll want to make a stand for the eight come the backend of the year."