Cronulla describe Andrew Fifita as one of their shining lights but say his loss for the rest of the NRL season would not extinguish their top four hopes.
Andrew and his brother David will on Thursday front the Cronulla board to learn their fate over allegations they abused a referee during a Penrith District Junior Rugby League match last month.
The pair have been suspended indefinitely and the Sharks are under pressure to rub them out for the rest of the season after they were banned from PDJRL games for 12 months.
Andrew has stated he will contest several key points of the allegations, including that he threatened to “smash” a referee following an A-grade match between St Patricks and St Marys.
The former NSW front-rower on Tuesday lost a bid to have his PDJRL suspension overturned.
Club captain Paul Gallen has said he would support a four-game ban and $50,000 fine for their conduct.
Andrew has run for an average of 157 metres per game in his 16 NRL appearances this year and Sharks utility Ben Barba described him as one of the form props of the competition.
The Sharks have emerged as one of the competition’s dark horses after sneaking into fifth spot with four straight wins.
They face a stern test against second-placed North Queensland on Saturday.
An NRL suspension for the Fifitas would exacerbate the loss of veteran back-rower Luke Lewis who’ll miss the next few weeks due to a knee problem.
Barba admitted the saga had been a distraction just five weeks out from the finals but it would not be a fatal blow to their post-season chances.
“Andrew, the way he’s been playing, he’s probably been one of the form front-rowers of the competition,” Barba said.
“And probably one of the best, along with Gal, in our side.
“The quicker this gets sorted the better for us and Andrew and David.”
Winger Valentine Holmes said Fifita’s loss was a big one but there was enough talent in the side to plug the hole, pointing to their win over the Warriors without the pair on the weekend.
When asked if the episode had been a distraction, Holmes said: “It is but we’re just trying to let them sort it out and focus on us on the weekends.
“It was a pretty big challenge (against the Warriors) because we need Andrew’s go-forward.
“But the forwards that have been coming in having been training well and playing well on the weekends.”