Cronulla captain Wade Graham believes the strain of living in a bubble and playing 18 consecutive games has led to inconsistent performances from most teams this season and he expects the upsets to continue in the finals.
Penrith have lost just one game all season but the form of other finals teams makes little sense, with the Rabbitohs losing to the Bulldogs before crushing the Roosters, the Knights scoring a big win over the Sharks and then succumbing to the Titans, and the Eels beating Melbourne and being thrashed by Souths.
"Every club has had different challenges," Graham said. "The only team that has been consistent has been Penrith so it has just been a tough year on everyone.
“It is not just the games, it is the bubble. You are training or at home all the time.”
After last weekend’s loss to Canberra, Graham’s biggest concern was getting home to explain to his young son why he wasn’t allowed on to the field to see him.
“He doesn’t understand because we are at home together.” Graham said.
Graham looks to inspire the Sharks
The Sharks travel to Canberra to take on the Raiders again in Saturday’s sudden-death final and few give them a chance after failing to win a match against another team in the top eight all season.
However, Graham believes that what has happened in the regular season will count for little in the play-offs.
“It is what it is, that’s the stat we are heading in with,” he said. “We have just got to get on with it and hopefully our first win against a top-eight team comes in the finals.
“We have shown that when we play footy, maintain possession and get through our sets that we can threaten teams and we can score points.
“Despite going in as underdogs, we are in the finals. Eight teams have finished and we are not one of them so the boys should definitely be proud of that effort.
“Our destiny is in our own hands. If we play our best footy game-by-game, we will give ourselves a chance and we will see how we go.”
Graham returned from a lifting tackle suspension against the Raiders in round 20 and Cronulla will be further bolstered by the return of halfback Chad Townsend, while hooker Blayke Brailey, backs Jesse Ramien, Josh Dugan and Sione Katoa and forwards Toby Rudolf and Siosifa Talekai were rested last weekend.
Graham played five-eighth in the absence of injured playmaker Shaun Johnson and is set to partner Townsend in the halves.
“I think whoever wins the comp needs to beat Penrith,” he said. “Post-COVID they have certainly been the team to beat so it comes down whoever puts their best footy together now.
“For teams in the top four it is only two wins and for the teams below them it is only three wins and you are in the grand final.
“We have only got to put three good games together to give ourselves a chance. That is what finals footy is about and as long as we are playing we are in with a chance.”