Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is hoping to ease Paul Gallen’s workload as the NSW State of Origin captain prepares for an arduous farewell series.
The Sharks skipper is a certain starter for Sunday’s NRL clash against Newcastle despite complaining of soreness in his troublesome knee following last week’s Test win over New Zealand with the Kangaroos.
It is the same knee that kept him out of three games earlier in the season, but Flanagan ruled out sitting out his ageing warhorse, instead hoping a reduced workload will be enough to keep him fresh.
“Over the next couple of weeks I’d like to think that we could get him off and he doesn’t have to play 80 minutes because he’s probably going to play big minutes in Origin,” Flanagan said on Friday.
“The build-up to Origin, the training and the mental pressure of that, we’d like to be able to give him a bit of time off. But in the end, we’ve got to win our next two games before Origin.”
Flanagan also revealed the club has shelved talks of a possible extension for the off-contract Gallen until after the Origin series.
He had no concerns for the 34-year-old’s continued ability on game day, but did question whether he would have the desire to commit to another gruelling off-season.
“It’s not about the game for blokes like Gal, Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington, those senior boys. It’s about the week and the pre-seasons that they’ve had,” Flanagan said.
“Can they continue to compete with young blokes? We’ll just wait until after the Origin series and see how we’re going.
“Hopefully we’re still going well as a club, those players want to play again and they feel that they can go again and go through another off-season.”
Flying high in equal top spot on the NRL ladder after a last-start win over heavyweights Brisbane, Flanagan said he is banking on the experience of his senior players against the last-placed Knights.
“We’re one of the most experienced sides in the competition in relation to NRL games played,” he said.
“For me, it should be a given that we can go up to Newcastle, be professional, and play with the same intent because of that experience.”