Fast start key to Sharks turnaround - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Fast start key to Sharks turnaround

By Ben Horne 01/03/2011 04:22:09 PM Comments (0)

Getting Cronulla to the NRL finals seems an impossible task, but coach Shane Flanagan and captain Paul Gallen are adamant timing is the key to proving the knockers wrong.

Gallen isn't after sympathy for the Sharks' plight, in fact he admits his team deserves to be written off. In the skipper's own words the Sharks are "rough around the edges".

However the Test lock believes if they catch the odd break, the potential is there.

While their forward pack is world class, their backs and interchange in particular will rely heavily on rookies and journeymen looking to come good.

Most judges can't fathom how Cronulla and top eight can be used in the same sentence this year, but coach Flanagan says his team just needs to start well to gain all-important confidence.

A more settled Tim Smith, a bulked up Albert Kelly and new recruit Wade Graham will carry the bulk of responsibility in the playmaking roles.

"I think if we can win a couple of games early on with (them) in the halves, that'll give them an enormous boost for the remainder of the season," said Flanagan.

"They'd get a bit of confidence playing behind a pretty good forward pack, if we can just manage to win a couple of games early on."

Penrith junior Graham's ability to rise to the challenge of running the team, could make or break Cronulla's season.

After a promising start to the 20-year-old's career, Flanagan is confident this can be Graham's break-out season.

"I hope we've got him at the right time ... to me he's on the way up," he said.

"He's a steady type of player which is what we need in the halves. He's big, he's strong, he's a little bit in the Trent Barrett mould, but with younger legs, so hopefully he can deliver."

Cronulla's other inspired off-season purchase was St George Illawarra hardman Jeremy Smith.

Not only does the Kiwi international cap off arguably the game's best backrow alongside Gallen and Anthony Tupou, but he brings a much-needed winning culture - following his successes with Melbourne (salary cap scandal aside), St George Illawarra and New Zealand.

Gallen says Smith has changed the feeling around the Toyota Stadium locker room.

"He's done it for a number of years now and to have successfully won four minor premierships in a row now, you don't fluke that," said Gallen, who concedes his side need to minimise injuries this year to be a chance.

"He knows how to win and he's a leader to have around the place."

Players like Colin Best, Ben Pomeroy and Dean Collis won't receive unlimited chances and need to make any opportunity count, with young guns Ryan Tongia, Stewart Mills, Nathan Stapleton and Ricky Leutele hungry for spots in the outside backs.

"It's not up to Paul Gallen or the forward pack, it's up to the 17 we put out each week," said Flanagan.

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