The message for the Cronulla Sharks is simple – improve your defence or forget about the top four.
The Sharks leaked 33 points to the lowly Sea Eagles in their tense golden-point loss at Shark Park on Sunday. In a game where they were the better side for much of it, ill discipline without the ball and sloppiness with it killed Cronulla’s chance to climb into a share of fourth place.
Statistically Cronulla have the fifth best defence in the competition heading into their round 22 clash with the Storm in Melbourne. But the nature of the defeat to the Sea Eagles, where they failed to close out a game for the second week in a row, will be cause for concern.
The back to back losses to Manly and Brisbane, by a grand total of three points, have Cronulla staring down the barrel.
A third defeat in a row to Melbourne on Sunday could leave the Sharks as low as eighth. While Cronulla’s sights have been set on cracking the top four, they will now be nervously looking over their shoulder with four rounds remaining given the importance of a top four finish to a team’s chances of winning the premiership.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said his side needed to improve – and quickly.
“We shouldn’t have allowed [Manly] to score the 32 or 33 points. We should have been better than that,” he said.
“In theory, you win your next four games you’re a chance [of making the top four]. But if we play like that we’re not going to win our next four games. It’s pretty clear.
“So we’ve just got to concentrate week to week. It’s the old story. Concentrate on Melbourne, it’s going to be a tough game. We can’t be looking too far ahead.”
If we play like that we’re not going to win our next four games.Sharks coach Shane Flanagan
Sharks captain Paul Gallen, who ran for 145 metres, made 31 tackles and produced a sublime try assist for Wade Graham against the Sea Eagles, agreed with his coach.
“To let 33 points in for us is disappointing,” he said.
“We need to start winning if we want to crack that top four, string some games together. And it has got to start soon. Now. Next week.”
Melbourne captain Cameron Smith is expected to play for the Storm despite failing to finish his side’s 30-20 loss to South Sydney on Friday night with a tendon issue in his big toe.
Smith had hobbled off with five minutes to play against the Rabbitohs with the Storm unable to replace him with no interchanges remaining.
Smith’s goal-kicking and kicking in general play will be unaffected with the injury to his right foot.