Why Sharks are no hope of winning title without Graham
NO Wade Graham, no premiership win for Cronulla.
That's the belief of a number of rugby league experts after it was revealed the Sharks backrower will be sidelined for a lengthy period after suffering an ACL tear during Saturday's loss to the Sydney Roosters.
When asked post-game whether they could win the title without Graham, Fox Sports reporter James Hooper said: "Personally no, I don't think they can."
That sentiment was echoed by NRL 360 host Paul Kent on Triple M NRL.
"I'm prepared to but a line through the Sharks and say they can't win without Wade Graham," Kent said.
While former Sharks premiership-winner Michael Ennis stopped short of writing them off, he explained how much of a loss Graham will be.
"They've shown their resilience but you can't deny the fact Graham is so critical to the way they do things both defensively, also with their attack … his ball playing down that left hand side," Ennis told Fox Sports.
"The difference Wade makes to Matt Moylan and his game is huge.
"His kicking game takes enormous pressure off Chad Townsend who does most of the kicking, but in recent weeks we've seen Wade at times do more than Townsend.
"Boy, oh boy, is it a steep hill to climb without him.
"They've been able to survive at times without him for a week or two but you're playing the best of the best now.
"The form the Panthers have shown and without Wade Graham, they go into this game favourites."
Graham's injury robs the Sharks of one of their key weapons ahead of their showdown with the Panthers, who advanced to the final with a win over the Warriors.
The match-up pits the Sharks against former playmaker James Maloney, who moved to the Panthers in what was resulted in a player-swap with Matt Moylan last summer.
Sharks co-captain Paul Gallen predicted Maloney would attempt to prove a point against his former club.
"I've been told Jimmy Maloney was absolutely outstanding. I've been told he's a bit busted after the game but I know Jimmy Maloney is as tough as nails," Gallen told Channel 9.
"He'll be on next week, particularly playing against us."
Gallen admitted he wrote the Panthers off as a title threat but believes their confidence has since soared after recent wins.
"I thought they were gone a month ago," he said.
"I think the last game against the Melbourne Storm - when Melbourne rested eight of their players - they just scraped home, the Panthers.
"I remember thinking at the time, 'That's going to give them confidence going into the semis'.
"The Warriors smashed them only two weeks ago in New Zealand, Penrith were not in that game whatsoever, then they come out and beat them, so next week's going to be a hard game."