CRONULLA Sharks coach Shane Flanagan is likely to move winger Matty Wright to cover for unlucky fullback, Nathan Gardner, now out of football indefinitely with a serious knee injury.
Scans are expected to confirm medico David Givney’s initial fears that he has torn his anterior cruciate ligament in the final minutes of Saturday night’s 12-0 win over the Dragons at Toyota Stadium.
‘‘I felt his knee, it wobbled and he [Gardner] said he couldn’t feel anything...a pointer to serious damage,’’ said Givney after the game.
The Sharks will explore possible stemcell transplant surgery and LARS surgery as an alternative to the traditional knee reconstructive surgery, in the hope of speeding up the healing process and getting the livewire Gardner back in time before the NRL finals in September.
Gardner’s injury was the only dampener to Flanagan and the team’s celebrations, after a titanic defensive performance against the 2010 premiers catapuled them into the NRL top four.
Yesterday, the head coach was still tossing up his options for Sunday’s big home clash against Parramatta, with outside backs Stewart Mills and Ike Gordon set to return, but likely replacement Nathan Stapleton still some weeks away from recovery from his second LARS knee surgery.
Back rower Anthony Tupou is also out for six weeks with a knee injury.
‘‘Injuries have tested our outside back strength early, that’s for sure, and you couldn’t believe ‘Gard’s’ copping his injury so close to fulltime,’’ said Flanagan.
‘‘I’m hoping Mills is back for the Eels, but I’m probably looking at Matty Wright dropping back to the No. 1 at this stage.’’
Wright has filled in right across the Sharks back line at different stages, and if he gets the job he’ll need to contend with some of the biggest ‘‘bombs’’ in league - from Parramatta’s exciting but erratic fullback, Jarryd Hayne.
His other option is moving Todd Carney from five-eighth, something Flanagan would do reluctantly with Carney’s form warranting Country and State of Origin selection at No. 6.
Under the pressure of a sell-out crowd and local derby atmosphere, both sides started ruthlessly in defence, hurling their rivals backwards, with the Sharks called upon to make more tackles.
They won despite the greater workload because they made more effective tackles, especially on their line, they had less missed tackles than the Dragons and they made less handling mistakes , especially early in the tackle count.
Captain Paul Gallen again led the forward pack well, but he had helpers from 1-17, with centres Colin Best and Ben Pomeroy back to their dangerous best with the ball on the end of good service from halves Todd Carney and Jeff Robson.
A try in each half to John Morris and Wade Graham, converted by Carney, proved to be the difference, with dangerous Dragons winger Jason Nightingale failing to get the benefit of the doubt when touching down in the right corner in the 66th minute. Only a blade of grass appeared to separate a four pointer from the eventual ‘‘no try’’ ruling.
One of the unsung heroes of the game was the Sharks veteran hooker John Morris, the team’s only specialist hooker, who was called upon to make more than 50 tackles.
Carney edged rival Jamie Soward and his huge 40/20 kick in the shadows of half time gave Cronulla a good chance to extend their lead, but inspirational skipper Paul Gallen made a rare mistake, dropping the ball on the first play afterwards.
The Dragons’ representative forwards Trent Merrin, Michael Weyman and Beau Scott were among the Dragons best and had a titanic battle with Gallen, Ben Ross and Bryce Gibbs.