Shane Flanagan’s off-season spending may well deliver the points that were so sorely lacking in 2017 after his playmakers guided the Cronulla Sharks to a ‘near-perfect’ 50-minute showing against Wests Tigers.
The 2016 NRL premiers dominated the first half at Campbelltown Stadium, scoring four tries, before cruising to an eventual 24-12 win on Saturday night.
It followed their trouncing of incumbent finalists Manly last week on home soil.
Trial form is of course best served with several grains of salt, but Flanagan had nothing but praise for his side’s 20-0 opening stanza.
“I thought the first 40 minutes was fantastic,” Flanagan said, reserving particular praise for his halves Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend.
“We controlled the game, executed well. “They were patient. They didn’t try too much with the footy. We’ve been guilty of trying to score off the first set in the opposition’s 20… so they got the message loud and clear during the week about what we wanted.
“It was pretty close to the perfect trial performance for us for the first 50 minutes. I started pulling too many blokes off and there was too many changes there in the end.
“But (I’m) happy as Larry with the first 50-60 minutes.”
While Valentine Holmes tore the Tigers left edge to ribbons with two first-half tries and a lead role in another, Moylan also showed promise jumping into first-receiver on occasion before taking an early breather.
Last season Cronulla’s attack struggled to replicate the pyrotechnics of their 2016 title run, with the big money signings of Moylan and Dugan made specifically to reinvigorate the Sharks offence.
Flanagan’s hopes are high with the ad-lib footy abilities of Moylan in particular expected to come to the fore this year.
“That’s what he can do and that’s what I want him to do,” Flanagan said of Moylan.
“I’ve got some players in there Val, (Josh) Dugan, Moylan, that can play off the top of their head and play unstructured footy and you need to be able to do that sometimes when the defence don’t do what you expect them to do.”
While Dugan also finished the match early after copping a knock to his jaw, both he and Moylan are in no doubt for the Sharks’ round one trip to take on North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.
Stars Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and Andrew Fifita all came through their first hit out of 2018 unscathed, however big men Ava Seumanufagai (hamstring) and Braden Uele (ribs) will both require scans during the week.
Flanagan also indicated Towsend is the front-runner for Cronulla’s goal kicking duties in round one ahead of Moylan while back-up half Trent Hodkinson waits in the wings.