Ask Cronulla coach John Morris whether he has concerns heading into the finals about the fact the Sharks haven’t beaten a top-eight side all season and he has the perfect reply.
“If we beat a top eight side next week all of that is forgotten,” Morris said after Saturday night’s 38-28 loss to Canberra at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
With Raiders coach Ricky Stuart resting nine of his stars and Morris being without nine members of Cronulla’s top squad, neither side is likely to spend much time reviewing the game ahead of the opening round of play-off matches next weekend.
Of more concern to Morris was that those who did play, including captain Wade Graham in the No.6 jersey, came through the match unscathed and he expects to have all but star halfback Shaun Johnson and interchange forward Royce Hunt on deck for the sudden-death clash.
Match Highlights: Sharks v Raiders
“Yes, it is not ideal. I 100 per cent get that,” Morris said of Cronulla’s record this season against other finals teams. “But if that was my motivation I would have run out my full strength side tonight.
“We weren’t going to change where we were on the ladder and even if we had a really good win people would say we weren’t playing against a full strength Raiders side so that wouldn’t have done us any favours there as well.
“I felt that we could rest a couple and give a few younger players a run. That was the positive. We will get our healthy bodies back next week, and fight for our lives.”
Halfback Chad Townsend, hooker Blayke Brailey, centres Jesse Ramien and Josh Dugan, winger Sione Katoa and forwards Siosifa Talakai and Toby Rudolf are expected to be available next week.
Morris said he had not yet decided whether to play Graham at five-eighth again or move him to the left edge and partner Connor Tracey with Townsend in the halves.
“Losing Shaun Johnson in the halves, there goes 200 games and 30 Test matches out of your spine so I wanted to have a look at Wade there,” he said.
“He had some nice touches, scored a try and had a hand in another one. We didn’t help him because we had eight errors coming out of our own end so we weren’t able to get any flow in the game.”
In total the Sharks made 13 errors, including being forced into a goal line drop out from the kick off on three occasions after scoring tries – the last of which resulted in a try to Canberra centre Harley Shields-Smith after a short drop-out by Graham went wrong.
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“It’s a coach-killer I suppose but it was very breezy and windy out there tonight so it was very hard with the ball in the air,” Morris said. “Obviously that sort of stuff hurts you.
“We wanted to come here and play well to try and get some momentum and confidence going into next week but it is hard when you also have a lot of key players out.
“We are in a position where we have got a pretty healthy squad going into next week and we have got to build for what is going to be a huge game.
“We have got to flush that pretty quick and get our full team back and jump into finals. We are pretty excited about what is ahead.”