Five Key Points – Sharks v Knights
There were things to like about the Sharks performance in Newcastle, while on the flip side, coach Shane Flanagan and skipper Paul Gallen admitted there were still some areas of their game which needed addressing in their week one finals clash this weekend.
The Sharks jumped out to an 18-0 lead following an enterprising opening to the match, with a spirited Knights fightback turning the game into a contest as the home side displayed plenty of character.
It turned out to be a game of little consequence, with the Sharks position in the top eight more or less confirmed even before kick-off, but the Cronulla side had a job to do and in claiming the two competition points now go into a finals match against the Cowboys with at least some level of confidence.
But what were the key points to come from the game at McDonald Jones Stadium? Here’s what we thought.
1. Age shall not weary them
Paul Gallen continues to defy father time, with another outstanding performance against the Knights yesterday afternoon.
The 36-year-old Gallen, who recently signed an extension that will see him go around again for the Sharks in 2018, carried the ball for 303 metres on 27 runs and had eight tackle busts, in what was an inspired performance.
Gallen played all but four minutes of the match yesterday, clocking up 25 tackles, with no misses, to go with his phenomenal output with the ball in hand.
He is the key component in the Sharks finals challenge, with his efforts on Sunday showing that áge has not wearied him’.
2. And a young gun also emerges
He has patiently waited for his chance in the top grade and when Jesse Ramien was finally granted his opportunity he grabbed it with both hands in an excellent debut performance.
The 20-year-old Ramien, the 513th player to wear the blue, black and white of the Sharks in a top grade match, made two line breaks, scored a smart try and was a handful almost every time he touched the ball.
Also encouraging was his defence, with Ramien, Luke Lewis and Gerard Beale combining strongly down the Sharks right.
Jack Bird is likely to be available this weekend to face the Cowboys, however on his first up efforts, Ramien certainly wouldn’t let the side down if required in the big games ahead.
3. Strong starts the key
The Sharks have often spoken about getting off to good starts in their matches and when they went up by 18-0 barely a quarter of the way into the match yesterday, it was the perfect possible beginning.
From there the back end of the half got somewhat scrappy, with the Knights dominating possession and posting points of their own, however the Sharks had established a lead and an advantage they weren’t about to relinquish.
The Sharks record for defending half-time leads over the past few years is almost faultless, meaning the opening 40-minutes and getting in front early, is crucial to their chances going forward.
Coach Flanagan will be stressing the importance of being up early, both in intensity and on the scoreboard, in the big games ahead, hopefully starting with the elimination finals clash with the Cowboys on Sunday.
4. Still some work to do
Yes, there was plenty to like about the Sharks in their win over the Knights, especially the fast start and the 18-point lead, however somewhat concerning was the lapse in concentration that allowed the Knights to claw their way back into the contest.
The Sharks let in three tries due to relatively soft defence on their goal line, with the defensive pressure coming from errors and penalties conceded.
It might be conceded it would have been hard to continue to play with intensity, against a team sitting bottom of the ladder and with the finals a week away, but from a team which prides itself on its defence, it wouldn’t have been good enough from the coaches perspective.
In giving credit where due, it was good to win at a difficult away venue, in front of a parochial home crowd, but it did leave the Sharks with some work still to be done in certain areas of their game in the weeks ahead.
5. Did the Bulldogs do us a favour?
The question as to whether the Bulldogs did the Sharks a favour in beating the Dragons in the later game yesterday might not be answered until about 6.00pm next Sunday afternoon.
With the Bulldogs upsetting the Dragons it was the Cowboys who benefitted most, the North Queenslanders slipping into eighth place and into a clash with the Sharks in week one of the finals.
A win from the Dragons would have meant the Sharks were to face a Panthers team badly beaten by Manly in their last game of the regular season.
So now it’s the Sharks to play the Cowboys, and whether that is a good thing or not will be revealed at Allianz Stadium next Sunday.