Flanagan admits Sharks will target Croft
The Cronulla Sharks pack bashed Cooper Cronk into a forgettable grand final performance 18 months ago, and are planning to unleash the same game plan on his Melbourne Storm successor Brodie Croft as their ongoing rivalry is renewed once more.
Croft is eight games into tenure as the Storm's new No.7 and like most, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan sees a "bit of that Cooper Cronk style" about the 20-year-old Queensland product.
Which means come Friday night the likes of Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita and Luke Lewis will be making a beeline for the young playmaker just as they have done when lining up against Cronk over the last few years.
Cronulla famously belted Cronk into one of his quietest games on the big stage in the 2016 decider, and repeated the dose in a torrid rematch at AAMI Park last year.
With Cronk at the Roosters and Croft at Melbourne's scrum-base, Flanagan has given the green light to his enforcers to go after the youngster, though they'll have to go through the Storm's own impressive pack first.
"We need to put him under pressure," Flanagan said.
"I think every coach will tell you that, you can't give him time to play. Their forwards will be trying to make time for him to play and he'll be playing off the front foot.
"We need to be really good on their forwards. It's not actually what you do to Brodie Croft, it's what you do before he gets the ball in his hands, the tackle prior probably is the key for us.
"We need to dominate that one and then we can be coming at him rather than him coming at us.
"He has got a bit of that Cooper Cronk style about him, if they're on the front foot he will come over the advantage line, so we need to dominate their forwards so he's coming off the back foot."
As for Cronk's long-time partner in crime Cameron Smith, Flanagan was not so sure.
In that same grand final triumph, Cronulla successfully targeted the Australian skipper in defence and forced him into a staggering 74 tackles, the most by any player in a decider since records were kept.
But Smith being one of the best players to lace a boot, Flanagan admitted the Immortal in-waiting has overcome the same strategy in Sharks-Storm clashes since.
"We had a plan in the grand final to make Cameron make some tackles because he's the best hooker in the world," Flanagan said.
"He's the best game manager that I've seen for a long, long time. It worked that day.
"We've tried to do it again post-grand final and it hasn't worked … if we can do it tomorrow we'll try to ruffle a couple of their best players' feathers but whether we can achieve that I'm not because quality players are used to players getting at them. He's used to that."
Lewis will be good to go on the opposite side of the park after overcoming a foot injury that has kept him out so far in 2018, while five-eighth Matt Moylan remains in doubt due to a knee issue he has carried since the pre-season.
Flanagan also fired a broadside at League Central after Cronulla's bid for inclusion in the inaugural NRL Holden Women's Premiership later this year was passed over.
The Sharks and South Sydney Rabbitohs were aggrieved after the NRL granted four licences for the historic competition, with Cronulla citing their work building up the women's game and planned sponsorship opportunities among their grounds for inclusion.
"I don't understand it, it's a kick in the face for all the women here," Flanagan said.
"We've got one of the biggest participation levels of women playing rugby league. I feel that we should have been given a licence."