Cronulla are hoping skipper Paul Gallen can come through the State of Origin period unscathed and lead them on an NRL finals run.
The Sharks returned to training this week after their second and final bye still buoyed by their stirring upset of competition favourites the Sydney Roosters a fortnight ago.
Gallen made his long-awaited return from a hip injury in that game and was rushed into the NSW team for their must-win encounter against Queensland in Melbourne on Wednesday night.
Ahead of Sunday’s clash against Newcastle, second-rower Wade Graham hopes the return of a healthy Gallen can kickstart a winning run and lead them into the finals for the first time since the seven-tackle debacle in 2013.
“Obviously we were missing Gal there for a while and not just him, but Chris Heighington and Anthony Tupou too,” Graham said on Tuesday.
“A part of getting consistency is having experience in your team, knowing how to get up each week and knowing what you have to do to prepare.
“If there is chopping and changing in the team, it’s always going to disturb momentum and consistency.
“So hopefully with the big guy back now and that experience back we can really get a gauge of where we are and keep moving forward as a club and get a few wins.”
After a poor start to the year, Cronulla have since recovered to split their past six games, including impressive wins over current top eight sides South Sydney, the Roosters and Gold Coast.
However they remain precariously placed outside the eight in 12th spot with a stretch of 10 straight games ahead of them.
“I suppose it’s good that when you have that momentum to keep the momentum going,” Graham said.
“But any break is a good break. The competition is so hard and the toll it takes on your body, it’s good to just have a rest. More so refresh the mind.
“To get away and then come back, we know we’re in the home stretch now. No more breaks, it’s all the way in now.”