Veteran Cronulla forward Chris Heighington says senior Sharks players have taken it upon themselves to lead the team during a badly disrupted preparation for their clash with the Gold Coast on Saturday night.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has been without his five State of Origin stars – James Maloney, Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita, Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes – since their dominant win over the Sydney Roosters a fortnight ago which got the Sharks’ title defence back on track.
A week off for their second bye gave the Sharks extra time to prepare for the Titans, a side who have a good recent record against Cronulla. Gold Coast downed the Sharks 16-12 in the shire in their round eight clash and ended Cronulla’s 15-match winning streak last season, earning an 18-all draw at home.
Cronulla have won just two of their last six clashes with the Titans and Heighington said while it had been a difficult preparation without their Origin stars, the Sharks senior players including he and Luke Lewis had taken responsibility to help get the team through a tough period.
“We’ve had some big, hard sessions because we’re running off the bye. And we had some real good sessions,” he said.
We had a lot of guys here and we really enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve ripped in. Lewy and I have got that bit of responsibility to drag the team along through these periods. It’s not so much a tough period because you want your boys playing Origin, that means your club is going well.
“It’s a happier place when you play so well and you do a job on a really good Roosters outfit. It has been a good week but we still have to work hard to get that performance going again.
“It is a bit of a short turnaround into the Saturday game [for our Origin players]. There’s so much emotion I would have thought going into an Origin decider. I suppose the high performance staff here will take a look at them after the game and make a decision then. But they’re better on the field than off it for us.”
While Cronulla haven’t been at their best so far this season they still sit comfortably inside the top four. Their lacklustre loss to Manly seemed to shock the Sharks out of their slump and the big win over the Roosters is now the benchmark performance for the rest of their season.
Cronulla had completed 100 per cent of their sets after an hour of that win and blew the Roosters away in the seven tries to two romp.
“The hard thing is backing up that performance and getting the same result,” Heighington said.
“The Titans are a good outfit and we’ve had a fair few struggles against them in the last few years. They’re a big, enthusiastic team so we’re going to have to be at our best to do a job on them.”
James Segeyaro has been named to return for the Sharks from a broken arm but still needs to pass a fitness test.