The Sharks did their top four chances a world of harm last Thursday night by failing to capitalise on chances in the final moments. A full set of six on the Broncos line saw the Sharks turn in four hit ups, an awkward shift and a dreadful fifth play option.
The Shire club’s inability to create an opportunity to score the match-winning try now sees them sit two competition points behind the fourth place Dragons.
The 12-10 loss also took their points differential to +44, whereas the Dragons, despite a heavy loss to the Roosters, sit pretty with +107.
Unless the Sharks are able to put a side away by 50 points on the same weekend the Dragons cop a heavy loss, they’re going to have to win at least two more games than the Dragons to finish inside the top four.
The Panthers have a slightly better (+68) for and against, but with only 24 points between the two sides, that is a difference that can be made up over a weekend.
Despite copping the raw end of a few unlucky refereeing decisions the Sharks have no one but themselves to blame.
Ricky Leutele could not ground the ball over the line, instead finding the foot of Jamayne Isaako. Jayson Bukuya had a two on none and chose to dummy at first, butchering an easy four pointer. For some reason the Sharks ran four one out hit up plays in the final moments despite the Broncos being out numbered out wide.
Chad Townsend failed to convert a kick from almost in front. Matt Moylan created a three on two and only had to put it through the hands for a try-scoring opportunity, but instead went for the highlight play and gifted the Broncos a four pointer.
The Sharks will be rightfully kicking themselves as they now have to rely heavily on other results to enable a second bite come finals time. A second bite that their current form says they probably need.
With five games remaining the Sharks need to realistically win four of the games to be any chance of a top four finish.
Given they travel to Melbourne to play the red hot Storm next weekend, it’s safe to say that this Sunday’s clash with the Sea Eagles is a must win for the Sharks. A loss would not only end their top four chances but put them in real danger of an away trip in the first weekend of the finals.
With the Broncos and Warriors hovering, an away trip could be hugely costly.
On paper a Sunday afternoon home game against the struggling Sea Eagles looks a favourable fixture. In reality this is probably the game Sharks fans least want to see in do-or-die circumstances.
To say Manly have the wood over the Sharks as of late is a massive, almost criminal understatement.
The Sharks last beat the Sea Eagles back in 2016 during their record breaking win streak. Before that you have to go back to the 1980’s for the last Sharks victory.
A quick google search will suggest it wasn’t quite that long, for Sharks fans it would feel almost that way.
In 2015, the Sharks had it all to play for in front of a massive home crowd on a beautiful Sunday afternoon (sound familiar). A top four spot could be locked in, gifting the Sharks an all Sydney road trip to the Grand Final. They would have matched up with the Roosters who they had made whipping boys twice that season.
Manly were done, couldn’t make the eight and were in horrible form.
So of course Manly scored late to break Sharks hearts despite having approximately 0.3% of the motivation of the home side.
The out of sorts Sea Eagles now have only pride to play for. If they play well enough they’ll avoid the wooden spoon. The Sharks on the other hand have a red hot crack at the top four and genuine title-winning aspirations.
A huge, black, white and blue crowd is expected.
The home side will be absolutely filthy after letting a golden ticket slip through their hands in Brisbane. Shane Flanagan will have his side fired up and ready to belt a side who are already looking to post-season holidays.
Sounds simple right? Sharks by how many?
History suggests that the $3.25 being offered for a Manly victory is there for the taking.
The Sharks NEED to overcome the hoodoo to put their northern beach rivals away. They NEED to send a message to their fans and the rest of the NRL that they’re not a spent force. They NEED the two competition points against a side who are six points + differential outside finals contention.
We’ll learn a lot about Cronulla’s chances of being anything more than fodder come finals time this Sunday afternoon in the sunshine of the Shire.