The Sharks are back on track
One win in their past six outings didn’t appear to be a good sign for Cronulla, but the experienced Sharks have managed to turn their premiership ambitions around.
Boasting experienced premiership winners within their side, Cronulla were able to defend staunchly before seizing their moment in the second half.
It has to be remembered that Sharks managed their win without Graham and Gallen – both of whom which will be pleased with having next weekend off. With arguably, their two best forwards to come into the mix, the Sharks will be tough for either the Broncos or Cowboys to beat.
Not a bad backup plan
Things just weren’t going to plan for Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan. Wade Graham had to leave the field due to failing a concussion test after seven minutes and halfback Chad Townsend had an average match.
In an unusual move, Flanagan decided to sub the ineffective halfback to inject Gerard Beale’s fresh legs into the game and moving Bird from the centres into the halves. To have the NSW incumbent halves pairing as your second choice combination isn’t bad at all.
Flanagan admitted after the match that the plan was always to move Bird to lock but Graham’s injury changed that tactic. Flanagan’s move worked a treat.
No Hodgson, no Raiders?
Hodgson’s injury in the opening minutes of the second half was the turning point of the match. The hooker was outstanding in the first half which he capped off by scoring a try.
The Englishman has arguably been the best player in the NRL in 2016, and his presence was sorely missed.
Hodgson has only missed on NRL match since moving to Australia two years ago, against the Eels in round 24 this year. On that occasion, the Raiders struggled to control a Parramatta outfit who were in disarray.
Ricky Stuart would dearly have loved to see the Raiders win to give both Hodgson and Austin an extra week off. However, the coach faces a nervy wait to see if his two playmakers will be fit.
If Hodgson isn’t fit, does Stuart take a leaf out of the Panthers book and play Williams at hooker if Austin returns? Although the Raiders boast Baptiste and Clydsdale, the reserve halfback is the most similar player to the Englishman within the squad due to his passing and kicking ability.
Flying the Sydney banner
The Cronulla Sharks ensured that there would be a Sydney team in the preliminary finals. In a season that has been terrible for clubs within the NSW capital, the Sharks have been a bright spot.
Although one of either the Bulldogs and Panthers will make it through to the semi-finals, only the Sharks look likely to challenge for the premiership at this stage.
IN THE SHEDS
Josh Hodgson – Lower leg injury
Wade Graham – Concussion
Cronulla Sharks 16
Tries: Prior, Holmes
Conversions: Maloney 2/2
Penalties: Maloney 2/2
Canberra Raiders 14
Tries: Hodgson, Rapana
Conversions: Croker 2/2
Penalties: Croker 1/1