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Johnson close but doubts about Graham and Dugan after costly loss

Star playmaker Shaun Johnson is set to return for the Sharks in just two weeks but the immediate playing futures of captain Wade Graham and centre Josh Dugan are in doubt after the pair failed HIAs in Saturday night’s 26-18 loss to Sydney Roosters.

Graham suffered his second head knock in three matches, while it was the second successive week that Dugan has been unable to finish the game after failing a HIA and both are unlikely to be available for next weekend’s clash with Newcastle.

The loss of the star duo added to the disappointment in the Cronulla camp after the Roosters recovered from 18-4 down in the 62nd minute to snatch an unlikely victory that again raised questions about the Sharks ability to match it with the top teams.

However, there was some good news after the match with Cronulla coach John Morris revealing that Johnson could return from a ruptured Achilles for the round eight clash with Melbourne, while prop Siosifa Talakai is also close to recovering from a shoulder injury.

Match Highlights: Roosters v Sharks

“Shaun Johnson is going outstanding,” Morris said of the Kiwi five-eighth. “He will be knocking on the door for round eight and he has gone really good with his rehab.

“He had a really good session today and he is training unrestricted, he is back into team based contact drills but he can’t really rush those ones but he is only a couple of weeks away.

“Siosifa Talakai is only a week or two away as well so that would be some handy replacements.”

The reinforcements can’t come quick enough for the Sharks after playing the entire second half with a depleted interchange for the third consecutive match after losing Graham in the 14th minute and Dugan during the interval.

Graham was one of three Cronulla players to fail an HIA in the first half of the round three match against Parramatta, in which the Sharks were left with no reserves on the bench for the entire second half.

Dugan was also a first-half casualty in last weekend’s triumph against North Queensland and he was ruled out at half-time on Saturday night.

“Duges was assessed at half-time and he was struggling so he couldn’t go on,” Morris said. “One of our staff came to us and said we could be in some trouble here with Josh. He is getting assessed as I was speaking to the team and he failed.”

Sharks chance their arm on the last

The Sharks led 12-4 at the break and Jack Williams scored in the 53rd minute to give them a comfortable lead but they conceded four tries in the final 18 minutes – three of which were either instigated or scored by rookie Roosters halfback Sam Walker.

“That one’s real disappointing,” Morris said. “You come up against a good side like that and put a lot of work in, get to the 62nd minute mark and we are up 18-4 and you blink and you open your eyes again and we are down 26-18.

“It was just a diabolical last 18 minutes for us and full credit to the Roosters. They taught us a lesson about how to play for 80 minutes but we shouldn’t have been in that position, we should have won that game of football.

“We lost Wade Graham, we lost Josh Dugan; we just can’t get through a game of footy without losing anyone but as I said to the boys that’s footy in 2021. You have got to be good at adapting and adjusting because there are so many guys going down.

Saturday in Sixty: Round 5

“You need to be smart about who you are bringing off your bench and guys need to be adaptable and play different positions.

"We can’t use that as an excuse but we don’t look at the opposition and I don’t think it’s a mental thing about how we played at the back end of the game.

“We had a big focus tonight on not giving up any cheap points and unfortunately their five tries were all fairly cheap. Until we fix that we are going to be paying the same price.”