Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has backing to continue making the shock substitution calls as the Sharks continue their quest for a maiden NRL premiership.
Flanagan shocked many when, for the first time this season, he benched halfback Chad Townsend midway through the second half of Saturday’s NRL qualifying final win over Canberra.
However the move paid off, with Jack Bird’s injection into the halves giving the Sharks enough impetus to complete a courageous comeback despite facing an early 12-0 hole.
Cronulla now get an extra week for their injured players to recuperate as they await the winner of Friday’s semi-final between North Queensland and Brisbane.
The preliminary final will be played at Allianz Stadium on Friday week.
Vice-captain Wade Graham said he and his teammates had faith in Flanagan to impact the game from as high up as the coach’s box.
“The playing group and coaching staff believe in each other. We wouldn’t be able to come down here and get the job done if we didn’t,” Graham told AAP.
Flanagan later revealed post-game that he initially planned to insert substitute back Gerard Beale in the centres and shift Bird to lock.
But his intentions were scuppered when skipper Paul Gallen withdrew on game day with a back injury, and Graham himself was concussed five minutes into the contest.
Graham said the players were ready to sacrifice for the sake of the team.
“You do whatever the team needs, that’s what rugby league is,” he said.
“It’s a team sport. When you get the results like (Saturday night), everyone can appreciate it and everyone enjoys. It’s the reward that everyone gets.
“I have no doubt that Chaddy (Townsend) will be back in the seven in a couple of weeks and he’ll be playing 80 minutes.”
Graham declared himself certain to return for the grand final qualifier along with Gallen and Sam Tagataese, who hasn’t played since injuring his shoulder in round 22.