Cronulla Sharks coach John Morris has lamented his side's continued slow starts this season after being forced to dig themselves out of a 20-point hole against the Canberra Raiders.
As the home side at GIO Stadium nearly kept up with the game-clock at the start of Thursday night's match, Morris's Sharks found themselves behind on the back of errors and a 5-0 penalty count early.
The coach thought his side had banished the bad habits last round when they flew out of the blocks against the Parramatta Eels. But their eventual 22-20 loss to the Raiders showed Morris his side still has some things to work on if they are to challenge for a top-four place this season.
"I was happy with the way we found a way to fight back, but I was really disappointed with our start," Morris said.
"We haven't been starting well all year, we've won most of our games from behind and certainly coming down here to Canberra, of all places, you want to get off to a good start against a quality team.
"I was really disappointed with that (start), a couple of errors in the back field which led to their tries; a play-five penalty which led to a try; and another yardage error that led to another try.
Match Highlights: Raiders v Sharks
"I always admire the boy's ability to fight back and I was happy at half-time to get back to 20-8, but our start cost us in the end."
Wade Graham continued to show positive signs in his comeback from injury, with a try assist, three tackle-breaks, 76 run metres and 21 tackles off the bench.
"We couldn't really get him into the game like we wanted to tonight, couldn't get him the clean ball we got him last week," Morris said.
"He's worked really hard on his rehab, but he's come back and lifted us so he's going to be better for the run. He played a few more minutes and he finished the game which is a good thing."
Sharks playmaker Shaun Johnson also looked comfortable in his return from a hamstring injury, chiming in on both sides of the ruck and setting up a line-break and try assist.
"He's got to get his timing back, he's another one who's worked hard on his recovery and he's nowhere near his best yet," Morris said of Johnson.
"Hopefully those two (Graham and Johnson) can continue to build their combinations, those two have never played (together) before it was their first game tonight.
"Shaun showed some nice touches on the right setting up Josh Dugan and he found his way into the game."
Sharks' rookie sensation puts Xerri on top
Morris was happy his halfback and teammate Briton Nikora were named earlier in the day in the New Zealand team, content to allow his two key players to feature over rep weekend.
"I'm super proud of him and I believe Briton Nikora is in the team as well, so fingers crossed he makes that team because he's had an outstanding year," he said.
"That didn't come into our reckoning to bring Shaun back tonight, he was fit to play and I think it'll be good for him actually given he's missed the last six or seven weeks."
The side was forced to reshuffle its backline early in the game when Bronson Xerri went off for an HIA assessment and failed to return in the second half.
Townsend provides for Dugan
However, Morris did not expect the talented centre to miss any game time next week against Canterbury.
"He seems to be OK, I don't think it was a serious one, obviously serious enough not to return to the play," he said.
"But it would have been nice to have him out there at the back end of the game when we were chasing some points, but it wasn’t to be."