Wade Graham believes Cronulla can be a force in the finals because so many of their star players have been freshened up by stints on the sideline through injury and the team will have momentum from a winning run.
Graham made just his fourth appearance of the season on Saturday night after undergoing a knee reconstruction last year and suffering a hamstring injury in Origin III but he made an immediate impact to spearhead the Sharks to a 39-24 defeat of South Sydney.
The win enabled Cronulla to leapfrog Wests Tigers, Penrith and Brisbane into seventh position and the Sharks are now in control of their own destiny as they play the Panthers away next weekend and the Tigers in the final round at Leichhardt Oval.
In between, the Sharks have three consecutive home games against the Dragons, Warriors and Raiders.
With Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan, Shaun Johnson, Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods and Paul Gallen also having spent significant time on the sideline with injury this year, fatigue should not be an issue for many of the team’s biggest stars and the Sharks are set to be at full strength heading into September.
“It is frustrating and obviously I have missed a lot of footy, Moyza has missed a lot of footy, Duges has missed a lot of footy, Shauny has missed footy, we have had a lot of players who have missed footy and we haven’t been able to get the same 17 out on the paddock every week,” Graham said.
“It makes it hard but if we can just keep pushing forward and working hard, hopefully our bad luck has gone and hopefully we can keep the same team on the park for the remainder of the season.
"It certainly helps with combinations and continuity in the team.”
Graham demonstrated his importance to Cronulla’s premiership hopes by laying on two tries for boom centre Bronson Xerri and another for Dugan in a five-star performance on the left edge.
He also inspired team-mates with a bone-rattling tackle on Souths halfback Adam Reynolds, which jolted the ball loose and gave the Sharks early momentum.
“I have played four games in about 18 months so that could be a bonus,” Graham said.
“We have made it hard for ourselves so if we do get there we have had to earn it. There are five or six teams vying for two or three spots but it is all in front of us now.
“If we want to play finals we need to go on a run. We are in that position so we need to win our games, we can’t afford to drop any.
"Every game is almost do-or-die for us and we come up against some desperate teams in the next few weeks in the same position as us.”