Sharks are finals-ready: Flanagan
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan admits his team had one eye on the finals after cruising through the Knights with a 26-18 victory on Sunday afternoon.
The clash was a dead rubber for the defending premiers who were guaranteed fifth spot regardless of the result after Parramatta beat South Sydney on Friday night.
After the Sharks raced out to an 18-point lead, the Knights surged back into the contest with two tries before the half-time break but Flanagan wasn't concerned with any form of complacency.
"I thought it had moments of good stuff but it was a tricky game for us," Flanagan said.
"Everyone was probably looking at next week a little bit and it's hard not to as footy players. We wanted to play well and got off to a good start at 18-0.
"We were dominant early on and they're a spirited team and they'll test you. Overall I was happy for what the game meant."
While Flanagan offered his respect to the Knights, he said his team's focus had immediately switched to next week's clash – a must-win clash against the Cowboys at Allianz Stadium.
With a host of experience in the Sharks' ranks, the coach was confident the sudden death consequences from now on would lift Cronulla to new heights after a season of inconsistency.
"I know what sort of team I've got in that dressing room, we've got senior players in there that know what's around the corner," Flanagan said.
"They'll step up physically and mentally. It's hard to do that in games like today.
"[Newcastle] are a spirited team but it's a semi-final next week and we're ready to go.
"We're confident we can win three or four games to get to a grand final and we have to challenge ourselves to get that done now."
Flanagan refused to buy into the talk North Queensland were a weakened side after a horrid injury toll in 2017.
The Cowboys scraped into the top eight on the back of Canterbury's upset win over the Dragons on Sunday.
"I don't believe the Cowboys are gutted or have got injuries, it's a semi-final," Flanagan said.
"They'll come down ready and we don't take any notice of that."
The Sharks will head into the clash sweating on the fitness of Origin representatives Wade Graham and Jack Bird, who missed the Knights clash, while veteran Luke Lewis and Jayson Bukuya should be available after leaving the field prematurely on Sunday.
"Lewy has got an arthritic shoulder that plays up every now and then so he'll get treatment but should be fine," Flanagan said.
"Wade and Jack will be available next week."
In their absence, Sharks skipper Paul Gallen put in a monstrous effort up front and drew praise from the coach after the win.
"He was outstanding, the score kicked out and I was going to give him an early mark but he doesn't like early marks," Flanagan said.
"Even though he is 40 he can play 80 minutes and doesn't need to come off."
Gallen has credited his focus on club football following his representative retirement as the main reasoning behind his strong season and admitted he never felt threatened by the Knights throughout the contest.
"Not having the stress of rep football has been huge, as much as I loved it my time was up and I noticed that this year that my weight was lifted off my shoulders," he said.
"It's all about where we are now and that's going into the finals series."