If only the Sharks had an Eion Crossan or Luke Covell in their team this season, they would be guaranteed a top-four berth instead of needing to win a virtual play-off with Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday for a place in the finals.
After succumbing 15-14 to Canberra in extra time last Sunday, Cronulla became the first team to lose five matches in a season in which they scored more tries than their opposition.
Had they won those five matches against the Raiders (twice), Bulldogs, Broncos and Eels, Cronulla would be in outright third place on 34 points ahead of South Sydney, with Canberra dropping to sixth.
Wests Tigers, Melbourne, Manly and Parramatta have also lost matches this season in which they scored more tries than their opponents but the Sharks' record surpasses the Canterbury team of 1975, which lost four matches due to inferior goal-kicking.
Cronulla playmakers Shaun Johnson and Kyle Flanagan have at various times this season had the goal-kicking yips and it has proven costly as the Sharks now face the prospect of their season ending if they don’t beat the Tigers.
While the Storm, Sea Eagles and Eels have already secured finals berths, the Tigers would also be in the top eight and guaranteed a play-off spot had centre Esan Marsters not missed both conversion attempts in their 9-8 loss to Penrith in Round 4.
In addition, there have been 29 other matches this season decided by goal kicking after both teams scored the same number of tries.
Among them were the Tigers Round 21 clash with Canterbury in which second-choice goal kicker Paul Momirovski missed a late conversion attempt that could have sent the match to extra time after both teams scored three tries apiece.
The results highlight the value of goal-kicking specialists such as Crossan and Covell, who were selected on the wing for Cronulla largely for the ability to win matches with their boot.
Daryl Halligan (North Sydney and Canterbury), Ross Conlon (Western Suburbs, Canterbury and Balmain) and Ian Herron (St George, Sydney Tigers and Parramatta) also played on the wing and were revered for their goal-kicking talents.
Halligan, who played 20 Tests for New Zealand, became the first player to surpass 2000 premiership points and helped the Bulldogs to three grand finals, including their 1995 triumph over Manly, while Conlon represented Australia.
“Not just for the points”
Crossan joined the Sharks in 1994 under the coaching of John Lang, while Covell played 131 matches for Cronulla between 2005 and 2010.
The Sharks also made a bid to sign Herron when he left St George for Sydney Tigers (Balmain) in 1996.
“I am a big believer in having a good goal-kicker and it is not just for the points, it is for the psyche,” Lang said.
“Just say you are down 14-0 and you score a try but miss the conversion and go 14-4 down, you still feel like you are a long way behind. If you get to 14-6 I reckon psychologically it makes a big difference, or if you are 12-0 down with 15 minutes to go and you score a converted try you are back on terms.
“I think psychologically it weighs you down if you have scored three tries and you are only leading 12-0 [as Cronulla were on Sunday]. If you have got a good goal-kicker it builds confidence.
“The Sharks could have been up there in the top four. If you drop one game [because of goal-kicking] you’d wear it over a season. If you drop two, you’d say that’s a shocker. More than that it is almost freakish.”
“You can’t devalue goal kicking”
According to NRL Stats, there has been 38 matches this season in which goal-kicking has proven the difference - including nine where the team scoring the most tries has lost, with the Sharks featuring in five of them.
The 1975 Berries, as Canterbury were then known, previously held the unwanted record after losing four matches in which they scored more tries than their opponents.
Goal-kicking prop Henry Tatana, one of the first Kiwi stars of the premiership, had left Canterbury after the 1974 grand final and coach Malcom Clift used six different goal-kickers the following season, with Graeme Hughes and Don Moseley being his main choices.
Tatana, it should be noted, helped the Dragons to the grand final in 1975.
The lack of a recognised goal-kicker proved fatal for the Berries when Hughes converted a Mick Ryan try in the 1975 minor preliminary semi-final but missed three penalty goal attempts and Canterbury lost 6-5 to Parramatta, whose points all came via the boot of second-rower Keith Campbell.
“I had a shot from 40-45 metres out late in the game that hit the cross bar and bounced back into the field of play so there was only a coat of paint in it,” Hughes recalled.
“Goal-kicking is incredibly important and we pretty much shared it around. Don Mosely became the main goal-kicker in 1976 but there wasn’t anyone that year who was the specialist goal-kicker.
“The teams that have had really good seasons, there is no argument that they had good goal-kickers.
"If you think about when the Dogs were great, they had Hazem El Masri kicking goals, or the great run the Dogs had on the back of Daryl Halligan’s goal kicking.
“You can’t devalue goal-kicking - two points from a goal will get you an extra point somewhere during the season and it might get you into the finals.”
"It does add value"
St George Illawarra director of pathways and list management Ian Millward said goal kicking was a factor in recruitment.
He said players could increase their value if they were reliable goal kickers.
"My advice to all young players is if you can kick make sure you practice because it does add value," Millward said.
"You have definitely got to take it into account with recruitment. The NRL demands that you have got to be 75 per cent plus now so if you don’t have a goal kicker who can do that you are not going to win games."
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.