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'We're a contender': Sharks not just 'making up numbers' in finals

Their finals spot now secured, Cronulla centre Jesse Ramien says the Sharks want to make a statement over the final two rounds: "We're a real contender".

Cronulla face a thorough examination of their premiership credentials with matches against 2019 grand finalists the Roosters and Raiders before their sudden-death playoff action kicks off.

The Sharks haven't beaten any of the other teams in the top eight but Ramien on Wednesday declared "we're not making up the numbers".

"And what better way to prove that then coming up against two of the top four teams in the last two rounds of the year," Ramien said, showcasing a mauve Women in League jersey for Saturday.

Halfback Shaun Johnson, who leads the league in try assists with 22, is critical to the side's hopes.

Ramien honoured to wear Women In League jersey

Eels legend Peter Sterling told Wide World of Sports on Tuesday that Cronulla's fate rests squarely on Johnson's shoulders, but the Kiwi maestro isn't fazed by the pressure.

Asked how he'll manage the expectations, Johnson said: "Trust the work that I've put in this year.

"I sort of used the time in terms of the break that we had, the season coming to bit of a halt [in March], to just attack that period.

Johnson: We are focused on building each week

"I feel like the work that I did back then is really going to put me in good stead for the next few weeks. I'm feeling really good with my footy, I'm loving being a part of this group.

"I think I've got a clearer [idea] on what my role is in the team and I don't know if I could have said that this time last year."

The playmaker also dismissed suggestions the Sharks won't be able to compete with the elite teams, saying they're "certainly on the right track to do something special".

"You're probably not cemented in the top eight two weeks before finals if there isn't [belief]," he said.

Coach John Morris has been key to instilling that confidence.

"He sets the tone for our attitude and sets the bar for our standards," Johnson said of Morris, who also guided Cronulla to the 2019 playoffs in his rookie year in charge.

"He shows up the first out of everyone with the mindset of being better and attacking each chance we get.

"Obviously the noise - I've heard some of the stories that have been written about him throughout the year and as players we've always shown our full support in him and obviously thought that [criticism] was pretty unfair.

"The fact he's just been able to bunker down with us, keep us focused, keep us motivated and keep us on track probably speaks to the highest regard of him as a person and what he's doing."

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Johnson anticipates some "chit chat" when he marks up on the same edge as Josh Morris, who has excelled for the Roosters since being reluctantly released by Cronulla after two rounds.

"A lot of people are talking about how well he's playing for the Roosters this year, but he was playing equally as well for us last year," Johnson said of the veteran centre.

"He was one of our best and his guidance for a lot of these younger outside backs was pretty crucial with how well they're going for us."

Meanwhile, Johnson advocated for his New Zealand halves partner Benji Marshall to extend his illustrious NRL career after being told there isn't room for him at the Wests Tigers in 2021.

"You play against the Tigers, usually Benji Marshall is taking up a lot of your preview on them," he said.

"So that sort of says how well he's still going ... Hopefully there's something out there for him and I definitely think it's not time to hang up the boots just yet."

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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.

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