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Five Key Points - Preliminary Final

1 We'll never know

The loss of Wade Graham in week one of the finals was a blow, then losing Paul Gallen in the second half of the win over the Panthers certainly compounded the Sharks issues, with their two leaders sidelined for the sudden-death Grand Final qualifier.

How much impact that had on the Sharks performance, would the pair have changed the result at AAMI Park - as coach Shane Flanagan said at the post-match press conference - we'll never know.

Only last October Graham was a Kangaroo, playing for Australia in their successful World Cup campaign, while we hardly need to be reminded of the career resume that Gallen possesses and the influence his work rate, experience and leadership has on the weekly performances of the Sharks.

So while the young legs and fully fit bodies coming in to replace the pair were physically able to compete, with their effort without question, one will never know how what the loss of the experienced the pair meant to the final result.

2 Then Feki goes down.....
The Sharks were able to adjust and compete in the early exchanges despite the absence of their Co-Captains, but when Sosaia Feki went down in the first half, meaning Kurt Capewell was shifted from the back row to the wing, the task became just a whole lot more difficult.

Feki had an interesting evening, being bundled over the touchline by a Billy Slater shoulder charge, one which might see the Melbourne champ rubbed out of the Grand Final, before he was knocked over by his opposite Sulasi Vunivalu while attempting to catch a Storm bomb.

Falling awkwardly, Feki damaged the AC joint in his shoulder and suddenly his night was over.

The loss of Feki forced a reshuffle, with the versatile Capewell moving to the left wing and the challenge had immediately stepped up another notch.

Staying healthy in September and having the rub of the green when it comes to injury is crucial and unfortunately the Sharks didn't get the luck in that department that they would have been hoping for.

3 Farewell to one of the greats

It obviously wasn't the way he wanted to go out, with Luke Lewis playing his final game in the same city where he made his NRL debut 17 years before, but there was no taking away from what has been an outstanding rugby league career.

Lewis hangs up the boots having played 324 NRL games, 16 Tests for Australia, 17 Origin matches for NSW, as a Churchill Medallist and a two-time Premiership winner.

By anybody's standards, it has been an outstanding innings, one which sadly came to an end one week shy of a Grand Final appearance and a potential fairytale finish.

Fittingly, Lewis led the Sharks out as skipper in his final game and while he couldn't steer the team to victory, his classy exit, on the same night his good mate Billy Slater played his last game in front of his home fans, will long be remembered by those who were at AAMI Park.

Farewell to Luke Lewis, it has been a wonderful ride, and good luck wherever the next chapter takes you.

4 Also thanks and goodbye.....
Also thanks and goodbye to four other Sharks who are set to continue their careers, two in the UK SuperLeague and two in Newcastle Knights colours in 2019.

Ricky Leutele, heads to the Toronto Wolfpack, a new kid on the SuperLeague block, while Joseph Paulo is on his way to St Helens.

Both are thorough professionals and are set to have a huge impact on their new teams in the UK competition.

As for Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee, the Sharks would love to have retained the pair but they head north with family considerations foremost in their decisions to move on.

It is a shame, with many predicting Ramien to play representative football in the future, while Lee has impressed all with his toughness, athleticism and exceptional improvement in 2018.

All have all performed over and beyond for the Sharks, Ricky for 10 seasons, Joseph for three and while Lee and Ramien are new on the scene, we wish them the best in their future endeavours.

5 That week off is huge
When the Sharks were successful in claiming the NRL title in 2016, many looked back at the win in Canberra over the Raiders in week one of the finals as the defining game of the season.

After a week off, a fresh and energetic Sharks outfit blew the Cowboys off Allianz Stadium in the Preliminary Final before going on to beat the Storm on that memorable Sunday at ANZ.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Sharks had their opportunities but couldn't quite get the job done against the Roosters in week one.

The loss meant a rugged elimination game against the Panthers, one in which Paul Gallen was injured and Luke Lewis aggravated a calf problem.

The Sharks didn't quite limp into Melbourne but their opponents were fresh, injury free and full of energy from the get go. The Sharks did have their chances and didn't have a great night, but it's extremely difficult travelling interstate to play a team which has had a week to prepare both physically and mentally.

It was no coincidence that the Roosters looked the more physically prepared for their final, after Souths had to do it the hard way to progress to the Prelim stage.

Making the top four is big, but there can be no doubt that a win in the first week of finals, then becomes almost as important. That week off is a huge advantage.


Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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