NRL PREVIEW | Finals Week 1
Last weekend was a hiccup, with the final round loss seeing the Sharks hopes of a top four finish evaporate, however all it has done is make the equation a simple one.
If the Sharks are to continue to progress during the 2015 season they need to keep to winning and that starts Sunday with a sudden-death elimination final.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan didn’t dismiss the Manly loss, but explained his team had put last week behind them and turned their attention to Souths this Sunday.
“To Manly’s credit they frustrated us and we just couldn’t get it done, but it is what it is and we’ve moved on,” Flanagan said.
And the moving on about which he speaks is a game against last years’ premiers the South Sydney Rabbitohs where the winner progresses and the loser goes home.
Confident of a bold showing, Flanagan is wary of the challenge from a Souths team which goes into the contest minus a couple of key players in John Sutton, George Burgess and Isaac Luke and has limped rather than charged into the NRL Finals.
That being said and despite going into the game as warm favourites, the Sharks still won’t be taking their opponents lightly.
“They know how to do it and we’re respecting them in that way,” Flanagan said. “They got a touch up one week then came out and showed why they are premiers the next. They’ve won a premiership and they’ve been through this before.
“Their form over the last month hasn’t been great but I know what a quality team they are and they can turn it around in a couple of days. We’re respecting them as the competition winners from last year.”
While the coach is eagerly anticipating what the game might bring, so too is Wade Graham, the Sharks backrower speaking with excitement in his voice about Sunday’s clash and also what some would perceive as the opportunity lost last weekend against Manly.
“Sunday afternoon footy, an afternoon final, I’m excited to play. It’s what you play rugby league for, to play in big games,” Graham said. “You can’t look back, it’s over now and it’s finals time. Whatever happened in the past is gone, it’s a new season now and it’s on for us.”
As for the predicted outcome, many including most betting agencies, have the Sharks as clear favourites, with a number of so-called experts ready to write Souths off.
Not so Graham and a Sharks team who realise the challenge that awaits them.
“They have a lot of experience in their team and like I said, it’s a different kettle of fish during finals time. They’ve got a lot of players who played in a Grand Final, won a Grand Final. They’ve got GI (Greg Inglis) returning and the two halves,” Graham said.
“They are an experienced team and I’m expecting a red hot Souths on Sunday.”
The Sharks and Souths have met just once this season, that game being played on the infamous Monday night when the heavens opened and gale force winds swept across Remondis Stadium.
On that occasion it was the home team to come out on top, 18-10 winners in the abysmal conditions in a result that will give the Sharks some added confidence heading into Sunday’s game.
Surprisingly the Sharks and Souths have never previously met in a finals encounter, with the Rabbitohs and Gold Coast Titans the only teams the Cronulla club has never played in a post-season match.
Overall the Sharks and the Bunnies have played 83 times since 1967, with Cronulla holding a slight edge with 43 wins to 37 from Souths. Three games have finished in a draw.
In matches at Allianz Stadium the Sharks also have a positive record, winning nine of the 12 games contested, while in more recent times the Rabbitohs have come out on top six times to four wins from the Sharks over the last 10 meetings.
The largest margin of victory for the Sharks over Souths was a 42-0 triumph in 1994, with the biggest Rabbitohs win a 43-4 result at Redfern Oval way back in 1969.
Sunday’s clash however will no doubt produce a much closer score line than either of those runaway wins.
The Sharks v Souths match is scheduled for a 4.10pm kick-off at Allianz, with a 20’s game between the Wests Tigers and the Canberra Raiders the curtain raiser beginning at 1.30pm.