Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has identified stopping rampaging North Queensland back-rower Jason Taumalolo as key to the Sharks’ chance of progressing to a grand final in a unified competition for the first time in almost 40 years.
The premiers stand in the way of Cronulla’s path to the decider, in particular Kiwis forward Taumalolo who was a standout man of the match in last week’s extra-time semi-final win over Brisbane.
Earlier in the week he won the Rugby League Players’ Association Players Champion award as the NRL’s best player as voted on by his peers.
And Flanagan is under no illusion as to Taumalolo’s importance to the Cowboys side.
He is playing some great footy,” Flanagan said at the Sharks’ captain’s run at Allianz Stadium on Thursday.
“We need to get up on him, we need to cut his time down so he is not coming at us, we are going at him.
“But that is a challenge in itself, the play the ball before can’t be quick and we can’t be sitting on our heels.
“He is a big man coming at you with speed and footwork, you need to be going at him rather than have him coming at you.”
Sharks skipper and lock Paul Gallen , who will return from a back injury on Friday, has been mentioned as the player responsible for stopping his opposite Taumalolo. But Flanagan insisted it needed to be a team effort.
“It is everyone’s job,” he said.
“He will carry the ball in the middle and carry it towards our edges sometimes. It is up to our whole forward pack to stop him.”
Sharks forwards Sam Tagataese and Joseph Paulo did not take part in the Sharks’ captain’s run and will miss the clash with the Cowboys as their recovery from respective shoulder and knee injuries continue.
If the Sharks can progress to their first grand final in a unified competition since 1978, Flanagan said Tagataese and Paulo would be available.