Sharks face must-win game

Paul Henare.
Paul Henare.

Southland Sharks coach Paul Henare has been a nervous man this week.

Not only have his team been taking their time working out the rust which naturally accrues during a bye weekend, but they are also starting on the second half of a season which remains finely balanced.

Tonight's game against Manawatu is a good example.

The Jets are nestled into fourth place on the national league ladder, one place higher and one win ahead of the Sharks, who do have the luxury of a game in hand.

With the Nuggets, Saints and Giants starting to create some clear air at the top of the ladder, the Jets have to be overhauled if Southland are to gain a playoff spot.

"This is definitely our biggest game of the season, solely because Palmy and us are fighting it out for that last top four spot. The three teams above us have pulled away slightly and the teams below us have dropped off slightly. It's like an old-fashioned show down with two teams trying to battle it out and this is the first of two important matches where we play each other."

Winning at home could be crucial, with the return match in Palmerston North coming in round 11.

"It's almost like a double points game, one team wins and you have to think about a head-to-head situation if both teams finish on the same record. In more ways than one it's a huge game for us."

Which is why Henare was feeling less than confident going into last night's final training session.

"We had a few days off over the weekend because it was the bye weekend and at the halfway stage of the season it's always good to refresh mentally, as well as physically, but it hasn't been a great week at training, getting rid of the rust. We've had a couple of average sessions."

Henare does not subscribe to the "poor rehearsal, great performance" theory.

"I've always been a true believer that the way you train during the week is the way you perform, hence the reason why I'm a little bit anxious. We do have one more training under our belt [last night] and we've got to make sure it's a good one."

Henare confirmed the loss of Morgan Natanahira to a season-ending knee injury will alter the balance of the Sharks lineup, starting against the Jets tonight.

"We are going to bring Gareth Dawson into the starting lineup, we are a little bit bigger and different guys are going to have to step up," Henare said.

"Leon [Henry] has been playing a bit of a power forward spot and he may have to play a little bit more. James Paringatai is going to have to play a little bit more as well. These things happens throughout the course of season, and guys just have to step up."

The Southland Times