Cronulla a big-match NRL team
Cronulla realise their toughest test is yet to come this season, but coach Shane Flanagan believes the resurgent NRL club have what it takes to win big finals matches.
The perennial cellar-dwellers have turned the tables in 2012 to be well placed in the NRL top four.
They face a State of Origin-depleted Brisbane team on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium, but are conscious the stakes will increase once the representative period finishes and teams make their dash for September.
Cronulla haven’t played finals football in four years and hooker Isaac De Gois knows from being involved in the 2008 Sharks team – bundled out in the preliminary final – just how quickly a strong campaign can end.
There’s still a long way to go this year, but Flanagan is confident his players are well versed in pressure-cooker environments, despite the team’s years in the NRL cellar.
“We’ve got two halves that have been to grand finals in Todd (Carney) and Robbo (Jeff Robson). They’ve both taken teams (Sydney Roosters and Parramatta respectively) to grand finals,” Flanagan told AAP.
“You’ve got Gibbsy (Bryce Gibbs), Jeremy Smith and Ben Ross that have won grand finals, and Isaac, Gal (Paul Gallen) and Colin Best have been there for semi-final series.
“So we’ve got enough experience across the field, that’s for sure, to handle not so much the pressures but the expectations and the understanding of what needs to be done in those big games at the end of the year.”
In a further boost for the Sharks, they’re expecting another former grand finalist, Test and Origin representative Anthony Tupou to make a surprise early return from a knee injury in next week’s clash with the Sydney Roosters.
Cronulla No.9 De Gois has felt what it’s like to be knocked out in big matches and is determined to turn that around.
“Without a doubt, the back end of the year is the toughest – ask any player that – leading towards the semi-finals where every player wants to be playing,” said De Gois.
“And with the semi-final system different this year, it’s pretty important to stay in the top four.
“So we’ll just keep playing week-in-week-out and, if we do the job, everything else will look after itself.
“We’ve always had the belief … so I can’t understand why we can’t finish where we want to finish.”© AAP 2013
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