Cronulla won’t seek significant changes in their game for their semi-final against Penrith as they insist they are still on track for an NRL title tilt despite their first-week finals loss to the Sydney Roosters.
The Sharks suffered a 21-12 loss after they bombed three certain chances in a defeat against a clinical Roosters side that missed little.
The loss could have come at an even bigger cost, with co-captain Wade Graham considered unlikely to face the Panthers after his game ended early with a knee injury.
But despite having to do it the hard way now via a sudden-death semi-final Sharks coach Shane Flanagan insisted there was no need for a performance turnaround.
“I don’t think I have to turn it around too much, it’s just the result,” Flanagan said.
“Nail those three opportunities and if we defend like we did tonight – they scored two tries off kicks … we’ll be okay.”
Cronulla’s loss puts them into the same side of the finals draw as Melbourne, and a trip to the Victorian capital awaits if they can dispose of the Panthers.
They have already beaten Penrith twice this year, claiming honours in the battle between their recruit Matt Moylan and ex-Sharks five-eighth James Maloney following their swap last summer.
Cronulla were their own worst enemies on Saturday night, with Ricky Leutele blowing one chance with a pass into touch in the first half while Valentine Holmes failed to find Josh Dugan while all but in the clear in the second.
The game then took a crucial turn with the Sharks 18-12 down with eight minutes to play, when Luke Lewis ran onto a Chad Townsend grubber and dived over, only to have the ball dislodged by Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell.
The Tri-colours then extended their lead to seven on the following set via a Cooper Cronk field goal, before they slotted over a late penalty to wrap up the win.
But Flanagan said: “If we have the attitude and effort we had tonight, I’m sure we will be okay.
“I’m super proud of the way we played tonight, they were outstanding. We just needed to nail three opportunities.”
Cronulla face an anxious wait on the fitness of co-captain Graham, who limped off in the first half after he fumbled a ball in the lead against up to the Roosters’ first try.
The Sharks’ co-captain’s right knee was already strapped following a medial injury just last month, and Cronulla didn’t rule out possible anterior cruciate ligament damage.
Graham has already missed seven matches through hamstring, knee, groin, cheekbone and concussion issues as well as a suspension in a frustrating year.
If Graham is ruled out, Scott Sorensen would likely enter the Sharks’ starting side in the second row, with Kurt Capewell expected to come onto the bench.