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Sharks eyeing NRL benchmark battle

The Sydney Roosters are the NRL benchmark and next week resilient Cronulla find out just how far they've come since being flogged by them just four weeks ago.
Sharks eyeing NRL benchmark battle
by AAP

By Steve Jancetic and Ian McCullough

SYDNEY, August 18 AAP - The Sydney Roosters are the NRL benchmark and next week resilient Cronulla find out just how far they've come since being flogged by them just four weeks ago.

With three weeks of the regular season remaining, the NRL top eight has essentially been split in four - the battle between the Roosters and South Sydney for the minor premiership, Melbourne and Manly squaring off for third, Canterbury and the Sharks jostling for fifth and sixth and seven teams fighting it out for the last two finals berths.

The Sea Eagles' ill-tempered loss to the Rabbitohs on Friday night has given the Bulldogs and Sharks a sniff of dragging themselves into the top four, with both sides three points behind Manly.

But the reality is they will almost certainly have to make a grand final run from the bottom half of the top eight.

To that end the Sharks - who keep plugging away despite the season-long ASADA investigation focussed on their club - will use their meeting with the Roosters on Monday week to gauge just how realistic a prospect that is.

However, their last meeting didn't go so well with Cronulla hammered 40-0 in round 19.

"Every player in our team that played that night will want to play better," star five-eighth Todd Carney told AAP. "It was quite embarrassing what they did to us.

"We realised where we were at.

"We've got to perform against the top four sides to be a chance and we'll get that opportunity on Monday."

Sharks skipper Paul Gallen welcomed the opportunity posed by Roosters.

"Next week's going to be a good opportunity for us to test ourselves against the best side in the competition," Gallen told Triple M.

"They're premiership favourites, they're playing really, really well."

Newcastle's 23-10 loss to the Storm on Sunday further congested the dogfight at the bottom end of the top eight, but coach Wayne Bennett denied his side's finals chances had slimmed.

"I don't care about other results. I care about how we play," Bennett said.

"If we play like that today we will beat most teams.

"I have never been unconfident, (thinking) we can't make the top eight, and I am not unconfident today."

The Knights remain seventh on 25 competition points, one ahead of both Gold Coast and slumping Canberra.

Brisbane are a point further back on 23, with the resurgent North Queensland, Penrith and the Warriors all still a chance on 22 points.

The Warriors missed a chance to move into eighth spot when they couldn't quite complete a comeback in a 28-24 loss to the Panthers in Auckland on Sunday.

Adding intrigue to the battle is the fact that of the seven sides in the race for the two remaining places on offer, six play each other next weekend in what could be a season defining round.

The other side, Canberra, host the just as desperate Sea Eagles.

With a blockbuster home game against the Storm in a fortnight, Manly can ill-afford any more slip-ups as they look to cling to the second chance on offer with a top-four finish.

The team on the biggest roll appear to be the Cowboys, who have won three straight since announcing coach Neil Henry won't be signed for next season.

All three of their victims have been in the finals hunt, including the second-placed Rabbitohs.




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