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NRL's high-flying Sharks rue inconsistency

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 11/05/2017 Steve Zemek and Tim Keeble

His side has the worst completion rate in the NRL, makes the most errors, is conceding the most penalties and is missing the second most tackles but Shane Flanagan is still wearing a smile on his face. © Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images His side has the worst completion rate in the NRL, makes the most errors, is conceding the most penalties and is missing the second most tackles but Shane Flanagan is still wearing a smile on his face. His side has the worst completion rate in the NRL, makes the most errors, is conceding the most penalties and is missing the second most tackles but Shane Flanagan is still wearing a smile on his face.

Despite a plethora of stats to suggest Cronulla's premiership defence is on the rocks, Flanagan is only looking at one set of numbers - their perch at equal second on the ladder.

The Sharks have been a Jekyll and Mr Hyde proposition over the opening nine rounds - while they have looked ordinary for long stretches of games, they're still getting the job done.

As well as being 16th for penalties (8.2 per game), handling (71 per cent) and mistakes (11.9), they're allowing the least points (13.1) and conceding the second least metres (1312m)

Only table-topping Melbourne have more wins and the Sharks are the only team this year to knock off the Storm.

And for that reason, Flanagan is unconcerned.

"The only thing we've been consistent about is that we've been inconsistent," Flanagan said.

"We've just got to tidy that up. If you can win and not play that well, I'm not worried.

"We've had our moments. We played really well for two weeks against Melbourne and Penrith, we didn't let a try in.

"The next week wasn't that great.

"I've seen that this group can play against the best, I'd be concerned if I hadn't seen that, but I have.

"They're the only team to beat the Storm so far."

Veteran back-rower Luke Lewis returns for the Sharks' round 10 encounter with local rivals St George Illawarra on Friday, replacing Tony Williams, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.

The UOW Jubilee Oval clash is crunch for both sides with the loser in danger of tumbling out of the top four.

The Dragons are without strike weapons Gareth Widdop (knee) and Josh Dugan (fractured cheekbone).

They lost to the Roosters after losing Widdop in the first half before being trounced by the Storm. Also, the Dragons have won nine of their last 23 without Dugan.

Kurt Mann will once again fill in at No.6 for Widdop with Taane Milne coming on to the wing and Jason Nightingale moving to No.1

"Taane's the next man up. He's been in our 17 consistently and him and Kurt have been mixing up that role," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

"He's a player of talent. He's a centre but he wanted the challenge of playing on the wing and he's the best fit for it.

"Taane deserved the opportunity."

STATS THAT MATTER

* Since 2009 the Dragons have won 12 of 17 clashes between these two sides, including all four meetings at Kogarah.

* The Sharks' last win at Kogarah was in 2007, and they have won just two of nine there.

* This match pits the best attacking team (the Dragons) against the best defensive team (Sharks).

Source: Fox Sports Stats

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