After making a stunning comeback from a knee reconstruction in Cronulla's 42-22 demolition of Parramatta on Saturday night, star forward Wade Graham admitted he was excited about the Sharks prospects this season.
Graham played 33 minutes from the interchange bench in his first appearance for nine months and struck up an immediate combination on the left edge with boom centre Bronson Xerri, who scored two tries to help propel the Sharks to equal fourth place.
Graham finished his stint with three line breaks and a try assist, while carrying the ball for 125 metres from 12 runs as the Sharks cut loose just after half-time.
“When you have got someone there like Bronson you keep it pretty simple, you just try to get him some space and pass him the ball and tell him to run,” Graham said.
“As long as I am playing alongside him that is what I will do, I’ll just try to give the kid some space and cheer him like everyone else.”
With New Zealand playmaker Shaun Johnson, NSW Origin centre Josh Morris and Kangaroos prop Aaron Woods to come back into the team in coming weeks, Sharks coach John Morris faces some difficult selection headaches.
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However, Graham said they were nice problems to have and put the team in good stead for the end of the season after Morris had been forced to blood five rookies during Cronulla’s injury crisis.
“It’s a position you need to be in. If you want to go deep into an NRL season, it takes more than just 17 players,” Graham said.
“Like everyone I have been really impressed by our young guys, they have really stepped up and handled the step into first grade.
“Our young guys have been doing a really good job and we have got some key guys with a lot of experience coming back so it is going to push us really hard to play good footy because we have got more than 17 who can do the job.”
With Morris rested after playing his first Origin since 2016, Xerri switched from the right edge to left centre and revelled outside Graham.
“It was unreal to have him back, he added so much to the team and I am proud of him for coming back from an ACL,” Xerri said.
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“He is a good player so it made my job easier when he came on and he gave me some clean ball. It was a good combination so we will see what happens.”
Morris played right centre for the Blues and he may find himself on that side of the field for the Sharks, outside boom second-rower Briton Nikora.
Either Xerri or Josh Dugan are expected to move to the wing for next Thursday night’s clash with the Raiders.
Johnson could also be back from a hamstring injury for the trip to Canberra and Morris will need to decide whether to move five-eighth Kyle Flanagan to the bench.
“There’s not too many back-rowers in the game like Wade,” Morris said. “He has got the ability to play nice and tough, and run hard but also use the ball and he has got that nice left foot kick as well.
“It was awesome to have him back, you can see straight away the difference he brings to our side and just the different dynamic he brings with the skill he has got. I think anyone who plays outside him is going to get plenty of ball.”
Graham said he had been more nervous than usual ahead of his return and was happy to get ve got through the match.
“It is probably the longest gap I have had between playing since I started playing the game as a kid,” Graham said. “I can’t ever remember having that long off so it is good to be back.
"For me it was just about getting back out there, ticking that box and it is time to play now.”