Cronulla coach John Morris has revealed he replaced star playmaker Shaun Johnson late in Sunday’s 24-22 loss to Brisbane because the Sharks were chasing points and Kyle Flanagan was needed for his goal kicking.
With stand-in Broncos halfback Jake Turpin scoring in the 75th minute to put his side ahead, Morris sent on hooker Jayden Brailey in place of Johnson in a desperate bid to avoid a third consecutive defeat.
Star fullback Matt Moylan was already on the sideline due to a hamstring problem, along with captain Paul Gallen (glute), but Morris reasoned he needed Flanagan more than Johnson in case Cronulla received a penalty within kicking range.
The Sharks had lost their previous two matches by two points after Johnson missed five goals from seven attempts against Canberra and Canterbury and Chad Townsend was given the role against Brisbane but he failed with his first four conversion attempts before Flanagan took over.
"It’s a hard one to get three halves into your team but at the end of the day we have had two games where against Canberra we had 20 minutes to find two points and we couldn’t get it done and last week we had 33 minutes to find two points and we couldn’t get it done," Morris said.
"What we have done in the last two weeks ain’t working so I wasn’t going to go down that path again. I wasn’t just going to cop it for three weeks in a row.
"We are experienced enough to close out games and I know our halves have been disappointed with their last two weeks in closing out games so we had to try something else."
After coming off the interchange bench in place of Brailey in the 54th minute, Flanagan converted veteran Josh Morris’s third try but momentum shifted in favour of Brisbane after he was penalised for kneeing Broncos prop Matt Lodge.
Brisbane forward Payne Haas scored soon after and the Sharks were starting down the barrel of a third consecutive two-point loss when Turpin raced over.
"I actually needed to keep a goal kicker out there after they scored that last try as we may have needed a kick at goal to square it up," Morris said. "That’s why I brought Kyle into the team, to bring us that cover.
"I didn’t want to get burnt at the back end of the game needing to kick a goal to either square it up or win the game and I think Kyle showed with coming on and kicking our only goal today that he is our goal kicker.
"It is a bit frustrating that I am making changes around goal kicking. You shouldn’t be thinking like that as a coach. You should be thinking about other parts of your game but at the moment we are in a bit of a hole there."
It was noted at the post-match media conference that rookie Brisbane playmaker Sean O’Sullivan ran more with the ball in the opening 40 minutes before succumbing to a hamstring injury than Johnson did in the entire match, despite that being considered his strength.
However, Morris said their game plan had been to spread the ball quickly to centres Josh Dugan and Bronson Xerri.
"We were moving the ball a fair bit, our centres were seeing lots of ball and we were taking heaps of yards off them on the edges so I can understand why Shaun’s carries were probably a bit less," Morris said.
"I didn’t think Shaun had a bad game, he was pivotal in some of our play early but I brought Kyle into the side today for a reason and I wasn’t just going to throw him out there at dummy half for 15-20 minutes and pull him off with the game in the balance."