As Anthony Tupou closes in on a gutsy return from a shattered jaw, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan says they don’t fear any team in their run to the NRL finals.
With virtually no injuries to topline players and veteran back-rower Tupou a chance to return this weekend against Canterbury, the signs are good for the Sharks.
Flanagan is still tossing up whether to throw Tupou into the fray at Belmore Sports Ground on Sunday, 11 weeks after his jaw was shattered by the knee of Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell.
The initial diagnosis was Tupou would miss the rest of the year.
He had four plates and 16 screws surgically inserted to rewire his jaw and spent several weeks in hospital drinking from a straw.
Flanagan says if the 229-gamer and former Australian Test forward isn’t back this week, he will against the Warriors the week after, with no need to bring him back via the NSW Cup because he was remarkably showing no mental demons.
“It was a nasty injury,” Flanagan said on Friday.
“He was laid up in hospital with his jaw wired there for a couple of weeks. He couldn’t eat.
“The way he’s come back, he’s probably stronger and fitter than he was at the start of the year.
“From the specialist’s report, the jaw has healed perfectly so, he’s itching and ready to go.”
Tupou’s return could not come at a better time – the Sharks have worked themselves into the top eight with seven weeks to go and loom as an outfit capable of knocking off the competition’s heavy hitters.
As well, skipper Paul Gallen, having overcome rib and glute injuries which have sidelined him for half the year, is back and playing some of his best football.
“It’s good for the Cronulla Sharks with Gal healthy and raring to go at the tail end of the year,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan said it was the experience of the likes of Gallen, Tupou, Michael Ennis and Luke Lewis that had the squad believing they could go deep into September.
“I think that (belief) comes with the age of our squad, the seniors players in our group,” he said.
“They really accept those challenges, playing the Roosters, Souths and the Bulldogs this weekend.
“They like those challenges, Gal and Michael Ennis in particular are really looking forward to this weekend and challenging our team and seeing where our team is against the best teams.”