Flanagan settles on Sharks' NRL spine

Steve Zemek
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan hopes to stick with the same 'spine' for the rest of the NRL season

As Cronulla get set to face James Maloney for the first time, coach Shane Flanagan is adamant Matt Moylan is the man to succeed in the No.6 jumper for years to come.

After an unsettled and injury-affected start to the NRL season, the Sharks are perched precariously at 2-4.

However, after chopping and changing their key position players - much of it out of necessity - Flanagan says he has finally settled on his spine.

He says the combination of Josh Dugan at fullback, Jayden Brailey at dummy-half and a halves pairing of Moylan and Chad Townsend is one which he intends to carry for the rest of the year.

Moylan had been used at fullback the past two weeks but Flanagan said that experiment was over.

He also revealed he intended to keep Dugan at No.1 and Valentine Holmes on the wing.

"I'd like to hope so, yeah," Flanagan said when asked if the spine to run out on Sunday against Penrith is the one he would use for the rest of 2018.

"We trained in the off-season for four months with this spine. We've got some versatility there which is a great thing but you need some consistency there as well.

"Hopefully, these boys get the job done."

While Moylan is still finding his feet at the Sharks, Maloney has been one of the form playmakers of the competition, leading many to suggest the Panthers were on the better end of the player-swap deal between the two clubs.

Moylan's start to the season has been interrupted by a knee injury while Dugan has also missed two games with a groin problem.

At a time when Flanagan is trying to break in a new spine combination, injuries have been an unwelcome distraction.

However, he refuses to see it as an excuse, arguing their effort and desire have let them down.

"We can toss it up as an excuse but we haven't been disciplined enough," Flanagan said.

"We've been competitive but we haven't had that hunger and desire that we see with the Cronulla Sharks usually in some of those games, especially those early ones.

"We were beaten convincingly on the weekend by the Dragons. You can toss up as many excuses as you like but we're not going to. We just weren't good enough to win some of those games and we need to turn it around."

The Sharks are sweating on the fitness of key trio Wade Graham (hamstring), Luke Lewis (corked knee) and Andrew Fifita (knee).

STATS THAT MATTER:

* Cronulla has a dominant recent record over Penrith, winning the past three and eight of the past 10 matches.

* This is the seventh time in the past 10 seasons the Sharks have started a season with two wins or less through six games, the only exceptions being 2012, 2016 and 2017.

* Penrith are being awarded the second most penalties in matches this season (10.3 per game) but are also conceding the most (11 per game).