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Graham is ready to take on the Raiders

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May 18, 2018 by admin

Thanks Dad: Colin Best (above right), who scored a try, with his children Lara and Will after playing his last NRL game, his 260th, at Toyota Stadium. Pictures: John Veage G Thanks Dad: Playmaker Todd Carney in one of his big runs at Toyota Stadium.
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BRILLIANT Cronulla Sharks utility Wade Graham has declared himself fit to play in his team’s sudden-death elimination NRL final against Canberra Raiders on Sunday

in Canberra.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is also set to make a selection gamble with fast-stepping fullback, Nathan Gardner, who is also available following the Sharks 36-22 loss to the North Queensland Cowboys.

In a busy week ahead for the Sharks, playing their first NRL finals series since 2008:

❏ Playmaker Todd Carney injured his Achilles and will undergo constant treatment in an effort to make the side for Sunday’s game.

❏ The Sharks will also fight the referred contrary conduct charge over Ben Pomeroy’s shoulder charge which dazed Cowboys’ captain Johnathan Thurston late in the game. Pomeroy was a late inclusion in the team.

❏ The Sharks last home game at Toyota Stadium, in front of almost 17,000 fans, also spelt the start of the club’s planning for their approved $320 million development, with their developer quickly moving forward on funding arrangements — and a guaranteed $10 million off the Sharks’ debts of almost $14 million.

Flanagan admitted yesterday his team was guilty of ‘‘looking ahead’’ at the finals series, rather than their opposition on Sunday, adding that he was confident his side

would ‘‘refocus’’ this week on the Canberra Raiders.

The Raiders guaranteed themselves a home semi-final by coming from behind to defeat the New Zealand Warriors, and jumped ahead of the Sharks into sixth place on the NRL ladder after 26 rounds.

Wade Graham watched on, after the coaching staff weighed up the risks of playing him against the Cowboys on Sunday after several weeks’ recovering from a reinjured badly bruised sternum.

They decided to save him for the finals.

‘‘It was hard watching the game because I was close to playing, but I’ll definitely be right for next Sunday, no problems,’’ was Graham’s encouraging words for all Sharks fans heading to Canberra.

Flanagan says playing the Raiders at Canberra Stadium holds no fears for his side.

While the Green Machine is in good form, the Sharks have won six of the past eight matches between the two sides at

Canberra Stadium.

But Flanagan, who didn’t appear overly concerned by the loss to the Cowboys, said it was his job to get the players’ minds on the job.

‘‘I have a sneaking suspicion they were looking ahead to next week a bit too much,’’

he said.

‘‘It’s hard for some to get it out of their heads; I’m making no excuses for it and hopefully it is a blessing in disguise.’’

A big Father’s Day crowd urged on their stars after retiring hero Colin Best led out the team, and the sick Cartwright brothers — whose Foundation raised thousands of dollars at the game — were given a rousing welcome.

In warm sunshine the Sharks and Cowboys went try for try in the first half, with Carney and Best shining in a number of good runs, and Best celebrating his last game at Toyota Stadium by scoring his side’s first try.

While clever hooker Isaac de Gois finished off some good work with a dummying try, again converted by Carney, it was Johnathan Thurston’s men who held the lead at the break, 18-12.

Flanagan said his players were unaware Canberra had already won in Auckland, and he decided not to tell them.

Maybe it might have helped their second half, because it was lacklustre — especially in defence — after skipper Paul Gallen’s early try and Carney’s conversion attempt hitting the upright brought them back to within a goal.

The Cowboys ran in the next three tries, before big Andrew Fifita turned the tables on his rival forwards with a barnstorming charge to score in the 71st minute.

Gallen criticised his side for not building on Fifita’s try.

‘‘I thought our attitude in the last 10 minutes wasn’t that good,’’ Gallen said.

But any sustained comeback was thwarted by Todd Carney’s injury and successive penalties against them, including for Ben Pomeroy’s shoulder tackle on Thurston which went on report (the Australian Rugby League Commission ruled on Thursday that all shoulder charges must be referred straight to the judiciary).

The timing of the new edict has angered Flanagan and other coaches in the game. ‘‘It’s round 26 and the rules changed; I knew they were going to get someone … I was just hoping it wasn’t me,’’ he said.

■ Centre Ben Pomeroy yesterday became the first player to be referred straight to the NRL judiciary for a shoulder charge tackle. The Sharks say they will defend the dangerous contact charge tomorrow night.


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