They may be in the top eight but Cronulla’s finals hopes may hinge on X-factor Matt Moylan after he became yet another high-profile victim in a brutal NRL round.
The Sharks leapfrogged Penrith into eighth with three rounds left following a controversial 18-12 home win over arch rivals St George Illawarra on Sunday.
Cronulla were breathing easier after a contentious 76th-minute try was awarded to Bronson Xerri by the bunker despite replays indicating Wade Graham touched a Shaun Johnson bomb in the lead-up.
However there may be anxious moments ahead of their next round home clash against the Warriors after No.1 Moylan limped off with a hamstring complaint in the 50th minute.
It is the same hamstring that sidelined him for seven games after round three and Moylan had only just returned after missing last round with concussion following a controversial hit from South Sydney’s Sam Burgess.
“We’re struggling to get him going at the moment. With his hamstring – it’s been one week in, one week out,” Sharks coach John Morris said.
“And with his HIA the other week, it’s been pretty interrupted for him.”
Remarkably Moylan was among 14 players who were sidelined in round 22 – an injury toll that may yet shape the finals future of not just Cronulla.
The top eight picture became a tad clearer with hopefuls the Warriors set to drop out of the hunt after being thumped 42-6 by Sydney Roosters on Sunday to slump to 12th.
However, it remains to be seen how much the stunning round 22 injury toll makes an impact on the final top eight make-up.
South Sydney were the hardest hit after losing skipper Sam Burgess (quad), his brother Tom Burgess (concussion) and centre Braidon Burns to what appears to be a season-ending hamstring complaint.
The Rabbitohs dropped out of the top four for the first time this season after their shock 14-6 loss to a resurgent Canterbury.
And their hopes of rebounding won’t be helped by a dire diagnosis for Sam Burgess.
“I don’t think Sam plays in the next three weeks,” Darren Lockyer told Nine Network on Sunday.
And Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook later told Fox Sports: “I don’t know if the quad was quite 100 per cent going into the game – he didn’t pull up too well”.
It is the last thing South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett wanted to hear after they slumped to their seventh loss in 10 games.
Manly leapfrogged the Rabbitohs into fourth, also putting a dent in Wests Tigers’ finals hopes after they dropped to 11th, following the Sea Eagles’ 32-12 win.
The Tigers are also reeling from injured hooker Robbie Farah’s replacement Jacob Liddle (knee) going down.
The Tigers are now in Newcastle’s sights.
The Knights snapped a six-game losing streak with a club record 42-6 thumping of North Queensland to move to 10th and a win outside the eight ahead of Saturday night’s Campbelltown clash.
Melbourne top the ladder on 36 points but had their lead cut to four points by the Roosters after suffering a shock 22-18 home loss to third-placed Canberra.
Parramatta moved to sixth with a 36-12 win over lowly Gold Coast while Brisbane held onto seventh with a 24-12 victory over Penrith.