Sharks face huge task in finals race - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Sharks face huge task in finals race

By Steve Jancetic 17/07/2007 07:51:54 PM Comments (0)

Fate has dealt Parramatta a fortuitous hand as they push for a finish in the NRL top four, while over at Cronulla it's hard to imagine how anybody could be so cruel.

A look at the run home for all sides in finals contention - which is everybody with last placed Penrith only six points out of the eight - shows the Sharks have by far the hardest draw with their next five games against sides inside the top six.

Throw in a long list of unavailabilities and it's looking like mission impossible for Ricky Stuart's side, who would need at least five more wins to guarantee a berth.

At the top of the table Melbourne and Manly look assured of top two berths while Parramatta, Brisbane, North Queensland and Wests Tigers are favourites to fight it out for the top four and home ground advantage in the first week of the finals.

The Broncos could struggle without skipper Darren Lockyer for the remainder of their campaign, his absence a double bonus for top four rivals the Eels who play Brisbane twice over the last seven rounds.

The Cowboys and the Tigers have relatively easy runs home with North Queensland's only game against another top eight side being their round 20 meeting with the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval.

The Tigers play only one other top eight side, the New Zealand Warriors.

Despite the congested table, 26 points again looks like being the cut-off.

It means teams like the Sharks, South Sydney, Canberra, St George Illawarra, Sydney Roosters and Penrith can't afford too many more slip ups.

"It would make it awfully hard that's for sure," Dragons coach Nathan Brown said when asked if Saturday night's clash against the Panthers was must-win.

"Basically 26 points has made the eight the past three or four years and if that's that case we need to win six out of seven games."

Down at the bottom end of the top eight it's a logjam with the Warriors, Bulldogs, Gold Coast and Newcastle locked on 18 competition points in positions seven through ten.

It makes Friday night's clash between the Bulldogs and the Titans crucial.

"We need to win at least half of our games and a couple of those teams we will be playing against will be on the same points as us," Bulldogs star Sonny Bill Williams said.

"We really need the two points this week to stay up there with the rest of the boys.

"You do pay attention to the ladder because you know if you string a couple of good wins together you're going to be up there.

"Brisbane put five on the trot and they're in the top four now - we know if we string a couple together we'll be alright."

But while getting enough points is vital, so is staying healthy, something Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes knows all about that after losing prop Willie Mason for the remainder of the regular season.

"You're elite players are the cornerstone of your side. Guys like Lockyer - Brisbane will find it more difficult without him, we'll find it more difficult without Mason," Folkes said.

"Depending on the player that's injured, if he's one of you best, one of your playmakers ... it can certainly put a fair dint in your aspirations."

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