John Morris laments Cronulla's slow starts after 22-20 loss to Canberra Raiders

Tough: Young Sharks forward Jack Williams. Picture: AAP Image
Tough: Young Sharks forward Jack Williams. Picture: AAP Image

Sharks coach John Morris was happy with his side's brave fightback against the Raiders but was again left to lament a horrendous start to the game which ultimately cost Cronulla in Canberra on Thursday night.

Cronulla went down 22-20 at GIO Stadium having fought back from 20-0 down to level the scores at 20-all midway through the second half.

A Jarrod Croker penalty goal with 15 minutes remaining sealed the result for the green machine as Canberra climbed back into the NRL top four.

As well as a number of sloppy handling errors, Cronulla's poor discipline hurt them as they gave away the opening five penalties of the match.

Slow starts have been a recurring theme for the Sharks so far this season. Morris had been hopeful Cronulla had put them to bed after exploding out of the blocks against Parramatta last week.

But while proud of their brave attempted comeback, Morris said Cronulla needed to sort their sluggish starts immediately.

"I was happy with the way we found a way to fight back. But [I'm] really disappointed with our start," he said.

"We haven't been starting well all year, actually. We've won most of our games from behind. Certainly coming down here to Canberra of all places you obviously want to get off to a good start against a quality team. I was really disappointed with that, really disappointed.

"Just a couple of poor errors in the back field that led to their first couple of tries and then a play five penalty led to another try and another yardage error that led to another try.

"But I always admire the boys' ability to fight back and stay in the fight. I was happy at half-time to get back to 20-8. But unfortunately our start cost us in the end.

"Apart from a few errors as well it was definitely two penalties led directly to two of their tries and just took a bit of juice out of us early. We didn't touch the ball for five or six minutes of the game.

"It's like the old saying you can't win the game in the first 20 [minutes] but you can lose it. It was a bit like that, I think it just took its toll in the last 10. We were trying to find a way to put them to sleep there. I think we were a bit fatigued from the start of the game. We need to fix it up.

"We had a real good start last week against Parramatta, I thought we might have turned the corner there. We finished the game with about 69 per cent completions and 11 penalties, a lopsided penalty count against us. So they're things we can control and things we need to fix pretty quickly if we want to stay attached to that top four in this competition."

One positive for Cronulla was Shaun Johnson's return from injury and Wade Graham's continued comeback from knee surgery.

It was the first time the pair had ever played together and the duo linked well at times, with Morris hopeful the New Zealand and Australia internationals will develop a lethal left-edge partnership.

"He's been a good addition to have back, Wadeo. We couldn't really get him into the game like we wanted to. We couldn't get him that clean ball that he got last week," he said.

"But he's worked real hard on his rehab and he's really lifted us so he's going to be better for the run. He's played a few more minutes tonight, he finished the game which is a good thing. We're into a week off now and hopefully he can go close to playing 80 minutes against the Dogs in our next game.

"[Johnson has] just got to get his timing back. He's another one who has worked hard on his recovery. They're nowhere near their best, those two. We've just got to get them going.

"Hopefully they can continue to build their combinations. Those two have never played together. That was their first game tonight, Shaun showed some nice touches on the right there, setting up Josh Dugan. He found his way into the game ok but as I said it would have been nice to get Shaun back into the game with two points. It wasn't meant to be tonight coming up against a pretty good footy team in the Raiders."

The Sharks lost Bronson Xerri to a head injury assessment midway through the first half. But Morris was hopeful that the knock, while serious enough to keep him from returning to the field against the Raiders, would not be serious enough to see him miss any more game time.

Andrew Fifita received a grade two dangerous contact charge for a crusher tackle on Canberra's Ryan Sutton in the eighth minute. The Cronulla prop will miss two matches with an early guilty plea but could miss three matches if he fights the charge and loses.