Cronulla are poised to fall through the NRL’s top-two trapdoor, but coach Shane Flanagan expects his side to shake its late-season form slump in time for next month’s finals.
Monday’s 12-6 loss to lowly South Sydney was the Sharks’ third straight defeat, and leaves them just two points ahead of the fast-finishing Canberra Raiders with two rounds still to play.
And Flanagan’s out-of-form side will likely to get no favours from the Sydney Roosters this Saturday before a final-round showdown with the ladder-leading Melbourne Storm.
With a superior for and against, the Raiders only need to win one more game than Cronulla in the final two rounds and they’ll likely leapfrog the men from the Shire into the top two.
That would likely mean a qualifying final in the nation’s capital, where almost 20,000 fans turned out to watch Canberra beat Parramatta on Sunday.
Flanagan took Cronulla to the Central Coast last week for a training camp in a bid to arrest his team’s run of losses and the Sharks showed improvement against a determined Souths outfit, but couldn’t quite get the job done.
The loss followed disappointing results to St George Illawarra and Canberra in previous weeks, which were preceded by a golden-point stalemate against Gold Coast, halting Flanagan’s run of a club-record 15 straight wins earlier this year.
“This will all be forgotten once we get there [the finals] and some new competition, get Gal [Paul Gallen] back, get Sosaia Feki back and hopefully get some wins on the way home,” Flanagan said.
“It’s not going to be easy we know that. They’re trying really hard, they’re trying their butts off and things just aren’t working at the moment. It’s not hard for me to be positive about it. That’s my job to make sure we work hard and we’re in good shape when we get to the semi finals.
“The effort was definitely there and if we keep the effort up we’ll turn this around.”
Gallen was a late withdrawal from the game still nursing the calf injury that ruled him out of the Dragons game last weekend, although he should play against the Roosters.
Five-eighth James Maloney may be forced to sit that one out however, after two high tackles in the second half, the first of which will likely attract the interest of the match review panel.
South Sydney meanwhile have a few injury concerns of their own heading into the weekend’s game against Newcastle where the Rabbitohs will chase a third win on the trot.
Adam Reynolds was concussed 14 minutes out from half-time and took no further part in the contest. Fullback Greg Inglis nursed a left shoulder injury throughout the second half but stayed on the field, while second-rower Kyle Turner went down with an ankle injury before returning to the field.
Coach Michael Maguire said his side’s robust defence had won them the game.
“We’ve obviously been searching for that for quite some time and they actually looked like they were really enjoying their defence which is probably the character that we’ve always tried to build at the club,” Maguire said. “The boys they’ve actually got a lot of motivation. They hold a lot of pride in themselves. They’ve got a lot of strong characters down in the change room.
“We’ve put ourselves into the situation that we are. We want to just make sure we build and finish off the season and build that into where we’re going.”