Cronulla’s star recruit Josh Dugan believes coach Shane Flanagan needs to settle on a spine combination quickly and urged his teammates to lift or risk missing the finals.
With the 2016 premiers having won just two of their opening six matches, Dugan admitted time was running out for the Sharks to turn their season around and said Flanagan must decide the best fullback, five-eighth, halfback, hooker combination and stick with it.
"There has been a lot of chopping and changing, the fundamentals change every week and the positions change every week," Dugan said.
"I don’t think we have had the same 7, 6 9 and 1 for two weeks back to back so it has been tough. Hopefully, we can start getting that continuity and consistency, and get some wins."
Injuries and form have largely forced Flanagan’s hand, with Dugan, Valentine Holmes and Matt Moylan each having played two games at fullback.
After returning from injury in the centres during last weekend’s 40-20 loss to St George Illawarra, Dugan will move to fullback for Sunday’s match against Penrith at Southern Cross Group Stadium, with Moylan reverting to five-eighth against his former team.
Holmes, who started the year at fullback, remains on the wing where he has scored three tries in the past two weeks.
Sharks v Panthers - Round 7
"I think once we get those positions sorted we can get a bit of continuity and a bit of form," Dugan said. "It is probably a bit late to be doing it but it’s a long season, it’s a marathon not a sprint."
However, the 27-year-old Blues and Kangaroos centre said the Sharks could not afford many more losses before they had to start facing the possibility of missing the Telstra Premiership finals.
While there will be expectations on him and Moylan to help lead the way against the Panthers in the absence of co-captain Paul Gallen (knee) and with Wade Graham unlikely to recover from a hamstring injury, Dugan said the entire team had to lift.
"I think everyone needs to step up, we are coming off two straight losses and we are getting to the point where we need to win games and start cementing our place in that top eight," he said.
"I think there would be a lot of ‘what-ifs’, if we miss out on the top eight this year. We have got a great side, we have got a world-class backline and a lot of experience in the forwards.
"I would be devastated if we didn’t make the finals this year and I think a lot of the boys would. I think it is not just me that needs to step up, I think it is everyone."
Unless the Sharks quickly regain form, Dugan’s place in the NSW team may be under threat but he insisted his focus was helping to get Cronulla’s premiership campaign back on track.
However, Dugan was angered about media coverage of an incident with Andrew Fifita at Cronulla RSL Club during the pre-season as Blues coach Brad Fittler had told players at an Origin camp he wanted players of good character as well as good form.
"He said ‘be better people on the field and off the field’. I took that in and that is why I am not out on the piss anymore,” Dugan said. “That RSL incident was just a miscommunication and obviously blown way out of proportion.
"Something I cherish dearly is that sky-blue jersey and I would love to be a part of Freddy’s new regime."