Cronulla players have been practising ways to avoid being stripped of possession by Canberra’s English stars Josh Hodgson and John Bateman in Sunday’s clash at Pointsbet Stadium.
But the Sharks won’t try to learn the Raiders’ code word because they can’t understand their accents.
Hodgson is the leading exponent of the tactic, stripping the ball from opponents 12 times this season – more than any opposition team on his own.
The Raiders have successfully used the ploy 24 times this season, more than double next most-successful club Melbourne, and Hodgson swung momentum in favour of his side with a steal on Will Chambers late in Canberra’s 22-18 defeat of the Storm two weeks ago.
Bateman also helped snatch a late win over Penrith a month ago with a one-on-one strip on Panthers prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard and rival teams have complained that Canberra players have a secret call so defenders know when to drop off a tackle and leave a team-mate to steal the ball.
If more than one player is still involved in the tackle, the defensive side will be penalised but the Raiders have perfected the play and use the call so that team-mates know to release.
Sharks prop Aaron Woods said Cronulla players were prepared for Canberra to use the tactic on Sunday and had done some drills at training to counter the tactic.
Sharks v Raiders - Round 24
“They are a side who does it really well,” Woods said. “We have spoken about it probably a bit more with them this week than for other teams. We mentioned that Josh Hodgson has done 11 or 12 out of Canberra’s 24.
“We have done a couple of little drills where we have focused on it a bit but in the game it is a lot different, you are under fatigue and they do it really well.
“They must have a call because you see them in the tackle and then two jump off. We have tried to do a couple of drills based on that but it is different once you get the fatigue factor in a game situation.”
Asked if the Sharks players would try to work out Canberra’s code word so they knew when the Raiders were going to attempt to strip the ball, Woods said: “I’ll try but it’s hard enough to understand them at the best of times with their accents.”
Woods added: “It’s just a split second and sometimes you will be thinking about just getting down or an offload or something and you see them talking to each other, then the next thing you know they have stripped the ball.”
While some rival coaches have been critical of the rule change introduced at the start of the 2018 season enabling a one-on-one strip if other defenders had dropped off the tackle, Woods said he was a fan of the tactic.
Sharks wary of Raiders thievery
“I reckon it’s good. If you watched the [Canberra]-Melbourne game, Melbourne were just playing conservatively and Will Chambers went up with a double arm carry of the ball yet somehow Hodgson got the ball and the next set they scored,” Woods said.
“It was just a massive momentum changer and they won the game. I think that is the way to attack when you are defending so I think it is pretty cool.
“Obviously you aren’t always going to get it correct, some bloke might just get off or some bloke might just still be on but whatever the ref calls … it is like offside. Sometimes you are on and sometimes you are not. It’s whatever the ref can see.”
Gallen: I know it's time
The Sharks need to beat the Raiders to secure a place in the finals or they will have to overcome Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval next weekend.
With Cronulla captain Paul Gallen playing his last home game at Pointsbet Stadium on Sunday and Tigers veteran Robbie Farrah due to be farewelled at Leichhardt, both games are sold out.
Woods, who previously played for the Tigers, said he wanted to avoid an ambush at Leichhardt by beating the Raiders to ensure the Sharks didn’t need to rely on winning their last match to make the finals.
“If we don’t win this week it puts a lot of pressure on next week going to Leichhardt," Woods said.
"We have got everything to play for, it’s the last home game at Cronulla for two years and it is Gal’s last-ever home game as well so if we don’t put in a good performance we are kidding ourselves.”