So, who would you rather play away from home in week one of the finals – Melbourne or Brisbane?
It is essentially what Cronulla and the Sydney Roosters will play off for in the penultimate round at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night. With the fourth-placed Sharks to play potential wooden spooners Newcastle in the final round, a Cronulla win over the third-placed Roosters would likely see them secure third spot. While a loss would see them in a battle with Parramatta for fourth place.
Either way, it leaves the Sharks and Roosters staring down a daunting road trip in the first week of the finals. Though, while Cronulla were soundly beaten by Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium a fortnight ago, the Sharks downed Melbourne at AAMI Park in round six.
The Storm have already secured the minor premiership but Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has been consistent in his message this season that his aim for the reigning premiers was to simply secure a top four finish. And Saturday night’s win over North Queensland in Townsville has the Sharks swimming in the right direction.
“It’s definitely a bonus [finishing in the top four] especially if you win that first week,” Flanagan said.
“But in the end I’ve always said I think a side is eventually going to come from out of the top four and win the competition with a bit of momentum.
“But I’d rather be in the top four obviously and give yourself a real good opportunity to get a week off which we showed last year that week off was really valuable for us.”
Cronulla put in one of their best first half performances of the season to down North Queensland 26-16 and possibly get their premiership defence back on track.
The Sharks ran in four tries to one in the first 40 minutes to open up a 24-6 half-time lead at 1300 Smiles Stadium to maintain their position in fourth.
It was an almost flawless first half from the reigning premiers as they carved up the Cowboys through the middle with a string of offloads. The main criticism of Cronulla this season is that they have only shown fleeting glimpses of their best form. Brilliant performances like those against the Raiders in Canberra and the Roosters at Gosford have been offset by ugly losses, such as the defeats to Manly and the Gold Coast.
But for 40 minutes against the Cowboys Cronulla looked back to their rampant best. Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen dominated the middle. James Maloney, playing his 200th NRL game, ran the show. Valentine Holmes looked dangerous with young hooker Jayden Brailey returning from a broken jaw.