Matt Moylan's nightmare outing against his former Penrith teammates has exposed Cronulla's fatal flaw, prompting coach John Morris to draw "a line in the sand" regarding the Sharks flaky defence.
Moylan's axing from Cronulla's scrumbase against the Cowboys ranks as one of the biggest selection calls of Morris's short career given the ex-Panthers status as one of the Sharks biggest earners.
He and captain Wade Graham were given a bath on the Sharks left edge by Penrith's Liam Martin last Friday in a 38-12 thumping, with Moylan missing five tackles and the Panthers running in three tries down his defensive channel.
Connor Tracey has been preferred as Shaun Johnson's halves partner for Saturday's clash with North Queensland.
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Moylan's defensive issues speak to wider defensive frailties at Cronulla, with the Sharks missing an NRL-worst 36.7 tackles per game – a stark increase on the 28 they've averaged in recent seasons.
Graham, lumped with 55 missed tackles (behind only Mitchell Pearce) himself according to NRL Stats, said Morris had put senior players on notice throughout the year as the Sharks defensive woes threaten to have them making up the numbers come finals time.
"He's disappointed. More so with his performances than anything," Graham said of Moylan, who he had over for dinner after Tuesday's demotion.
There has to be a line in the sand moment somewhereSharks captain Wade Graham
"It shows where we're at as a team. As a team we're not happy with the level of consistency we're playing at and neither are the coaching staff.
"They've made a decision to tweak the side and hopefully they can get a bit of a reaction as a team.
"It just goes to show that the coaching staff isn't afraid to make decisions they think are in the best interests of the team.
"We've had a number of senior guys throughout the year face a bit of internal pressure to play better footy and lead by example.
"We're getting to the time of the year where there's no second chances ... There has to be a line in the sand moment somewhere and hopefully, this is it."
The Sharks sit in eighth place heading into round 16 with a four-point gap on Manly, Wests Tigers, the Dragons, and Warriors.
Cronulla's defensive issues effectively flip the narrative on recent seasons given their attack (25 points a game) ranks as the third-best in the competition after years of being a grafting, gritty outfit.
Forward Toby Rudolf said the Sharks had targeted communication under fatigue as a key factor in fixing their defence, with his own personal training now including defensive drills off the back of a gruelling series of "Malcolm" runs.
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"When we had players like Gal [Paul Gallen] and Luke Lewis we were that defensive unit that you really struggled to score points against," Rudolf said.
"We've been putting our heads together and it's just a lack of concentration in defence. Our edges at times aren't working as a unit and it's the same with our middles.
"I think it comes down to application on the field ... the biggest thing that's lacking in our game is that defensive talk.
"If you're talking to the bloke next to you, you shouldn't make a mistake and that's something we aren't doing right now."
Meanwhile, star front-rower Andrew Fifita will push to return from a badly broken finger after being kept off the paddock last week on doctor's orders.
A final call on Fifita's potential elevation from the 21-man extended squad into Morris's side will come on Friday, but the Tongan prop has trained with the team for the past week and a half.