You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content

Sharks coach John Morris thinks Cronulla's trademark tenacity has been unlocked by a heightened pressure to make the finals.

Cronulla climbed into seventh with victories against the Cowboys and Rabbitohs over the last two weeks. That counters the five consecutive defeats that had raised questions about their grit.

However, the heat remains on to continue winning as the Panthers, Broncos, Knights and Warriors push to break into the top eight at their expense.

Morris admitted the Sharks had put themselves in a tough predicament but feels the situation has galvanised his troops.

"I'm kind of enjoying that at the moment," Morris said before Friday's crucial away clash with Penrith.

"The boys are showing a bit of fight in our performance and our last two weeks have been really good."

Cronulla co-captain Wade Graham will face his former club after making an impressive return from a hamstring injury in Saturday's win over Souths.

A delighted Morris said the Origin and Test back-rower's game had reached a level at which nothing surprised him.

Panthers v Sharks - Round 21

"He brings a lot to our team – not just his ability to play with the ball, but the confidence he instills in everyone else around him allows them to relax and play their game," Morris said.

"I think you see a different Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend with him in the team, he takes that pressure off the playmakers.

"And his defensive enthusiasm, he's got a good energy in defence and his general leadership around the team in team meetings, video [sessions] – I've missed that all year."

Josh Dugan scores for the Sharks.
Josh Dugan scores for the Sharks. ©Mark Nolan/NRL Photos

While the Sharks are sure to test the defensive capabilities of 19-year-old Penrith debutant Matt Burton, they aren't underestimating the man stepping into the shoes of the suspended James Maloney.

"I've had a few people reach out to me that really rate [Burton] as a player. He played NSW 20s and scored a couple of tries, a very sharp player, skilful player. He's someone that our team's now aware of," Morris said.

"It's a great story – a young kid gets his NRL debut. I think any young guy coming into the NRL is expecting to be tested out on the field.

"I'm sure any young kid coming through the system at Penrith is a good young player because of the nursery they've got out there."

Cronulla fullback Matt Moylan won't take on Penrith due to the effects of the concussion he suffered last week.

Morris said the former Panther should be right to return next week.

"[Moylan's] going pretty good actually. He was a little bit dusty early in the week and that's why he's unavailable for the game," Morris explained.

He brings a lot to our team – not just his ability to play with the ball

John Morris on Wade Graham

Josh Dugan is a more than handy replacement for Moylan in the No.1 jersey, with the versatile outside back getting back to his best form.

"His last two games have been fantastic. It's not so much with him carrying the ball – which he did well last week, he got over [100] metres and scored a nice try outside Wade – but it's all the effort areas of his game," Morris said.

"He's dragging blokes into touch to get dropouts, he's pushing up and forcing errors.

"Those little parts of your game, you really know someone's tuned in if that's at the forefront of what they're doing."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Premier Partner

Media Partners

Major Partners

VIEW ALL PARTNERS