After overseeing one of the best wins of his tenure as Cronulla coach, John Morris insisted he was more focused on helping the club's off-contract players secure new deals than his own future.
The Sharks overcame the loss of centre Josh Dugan and winger Ronaldo Mulitalo to inflict a 48-10 defeat on North Queensland at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium and further the case for Morris to be re-signed beyond this season.
With the Sea Eagles recently re-signing Des Hasler, Morris and Melbourne's Craig Bellamy are the only coaches off contract this season and Cronulla have indicated they will not rush into a decision for at least another month.
However, Morris has guided the Sharks to the finals in both of his previous two seasons in charge of the club and if they keep winning it will be difficult to refuse him a contract extension.
“I have tried not to talk about it too much," Morris said. "My whole focus is on the team, and nothing changes. It is about getting on with the next job now.
"We have got a number of players off contract and my goal is to put those guys in a position so that they can get a new contract because that means they are playing well and we are all doing well.
Match: Sharks v Cowboys
Round 4 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
“I think we have shown that even though we were coming off back-to-back losses, they have been spirited performances and our defence has improved this year, which is something I am impressed with because we have worked really hard on that.
“All I can do is stay focused on the job and if I do that hopefully we get more performances like today and that answers that sort of stuff."
A week after being forced to play the entire second half against Parramatta without any players on the interchange bench, the Sharks were reduced to 15 men for the final 55 minutes after losing Dugan (HIA) and Mulitalo (knee).
However, despite undergoing a backline reshuffle and props Aaron Woods and Braden Hamlin-Uele being forced to again play long minutes, Cronulla piled on eight tries to two.
“We’re kind of used to it now," Morris said. "We try to put the boys under adversity at training and have different kind of scenarios, like taking them down to 12 men and pulling certain guys off the field but you can’t really get that sort of practice until you are in a situation like we were last week.
“Then today when it happened it was just play-on. I am just really happy with how they are all pulling their weight and getting the job done, even though they aren’t playing their favourite position."
Kennedy slices through on the right for his second
Asked whether it was the best performance by a Cronulla side since he took over as coach in 2019, Morris said: “It would have to be up there for sure, just the intensity in our game and again we had some adversity".
It was the second consecutive match the Cowboys had conceded more than 40 points and they remain one of three teams – along with Manly and Canterbury – yet to win a match.
North Queensland have been playing without superstar Jason Taumalolo (broken hand) but Cronulla are without five-eighth Shaun Johnson (Achilles), centre Jesse Ramien, second-rower Briton Nikora (both suspended), winger Sione Katoa (knee) and forwards Royce Hunt (knee) and Siosifa Talakai (shoulder).
Magical offload from Hamlin-Uele has Moylan scoring
"It is just a next man in mentality," Morris said.
"Yes, I would love to have Johnson, Ramien, Katoa and Nikora out there but it is a real good sign for me when you have players come in and get the job done.
“We only one guy out of our top 30 who wasn’t named this week, so we only had 22 people to choose a 21-man squad from."
Winger Mawene Hiroti started the onslaught when he scored in the third minute and Cronulla led 36-6 at halftime after tries to Dugan, five-eighth Matt Moylan, fullback WIll Kennedy and centre Connor Tracey (two).
Dugan and North Queensland opposite Justin O'Neill were forced from the field for HIAs in the 22nd minute after clashing heads and Mulitalo joined them on the sidelines just minutes later.
Rookie second-rower Teig Wilton, who was forced to play in the centres after the loss of Dugan, continued the onslaught in the second half when he scored his first NRL try in the 58th minute and Kennedy grabbed his second soon after.
“It was a tradesman-like performance and very professional from the boys on the back of a bit of adversity that we had last week," Morris said. “To have some key players out as well and to perform like that was very pleasing."
Cowboys fail to clean up two kicks and Tracey has a double