Antonio Winterstein of the Cowboys is tackled by Paul Gallen of the Sharks during the round 22 NRL match between the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys, at Remondis Stadium, Cronulla, Saturday, August 8, 2015.
Antonio Winterstein of the Cowboys is tackled by Paul Gallen of the Sharks during the round 22 NRL match between the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys, at Remondis Stadium, Cronulla, Saturday, August 8, 2015. AAP Image - Craig Golding

Sharks must be in hot water over comments

WITH Panthers fan Mick Fanning experiencing his recent near-death shark encounter, linking a celebrated quote about sharks to the weekend rugby league results may seem inappropriate. But I will anyway.

'Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water' does not apply solely to the high-flying Cowboys who were victims of the Sharks at the weekend.

All NRL premiership aspirants have been put on notice that the troubled Cronulla are Sharks on the prowl, and have an insatiable appetite for the club's maiden premiership.

Their win over the Cowboys was no fluke. It was the second time this season they have beaten the premiership hotshots, and have now won five on the trot to sneak into fifth on the ladder.

And their road ahead to the finals is not tough. They have the Storm at home this weekend followed by the Tigers, Eels and Sea Eagles.

With the fourth-placed Rabbitohs ahead of them on percentages only, and facing a horror draw, a top-four finish is not beyond the Sharks. The defending premiers are looking shaky and will need to find an extra gear as they face the Cowboys, Bulldogs, Broncos and Roosters on their run home.

But while the Sharks are gritty, tough and performing well above their playing roster might suggest, they can't seem to escape controversy. And that negativity continued on Saturday night, despite their outstanding win.

Provocative skipper Paul Gallen kicked off the fireworks when he virtually accused referee Matt Cecchin of cheating. While some may regard his 'just ref it evenly' comment as gamesmanship, it was clearly meant to pressure the referee.

Under different circumstances, the remark may have been considered a throwaway line, but in light of the fact two Sharks players are currently serving six-match suspensions for abusing junior rugby league officials - including a referee - the timing of the Gallen outburst was atrocious. Adding to the dilemma for the Sharks is the fact that Gallen's comments were clearly audible to the TV audience.

The NRL cannot ignore the incident and if Gallen is not charged or fined, questions will be asked. After all, that statement at a post-match press conference would almost certainly bring a $10,000 fine for bringing the game into disrepute.

But that wasn't the only negative to sour an outstanding win.

Suspended forward Andrew Fifita was seen luxuriating beside Shane Flanagan in the coach's box.

Generally that would not raise an eyebrow, but Fifita is presently banned after abusing a referee at a junior game. To have him cuddled up beside the coach, where TV cameras were odds-on to film him, is either naïve of the Sharks hierarchy, or an arrogant slap in the face to NRL authorities.

Hopefully it's the former.



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