Return ... captain Paul Gallen has had to watch from the sideline as his Sharks struggled. He makes a comeback today against the Warriors. Photo: Getty Images
CRONULLA skipper Paul Gallen dismissed the suggestion his team's run to the finals was a nightmare and said the Sharks must treat today's match against the Warriors as a warm-up for the pressure of finals football.
The Sharks, who were up with the premiership frontrunners before the State of Origin series, have lost their past three games but Gallen described the upcoming matches against the Warriors, Newcastle, Souths, Melbourne and North Queensland as a taste of things to come … should all go well.
''I don't think it is a horror draw,'' said Gallen, who'll return in Auckland this afternoon after being sidelined for four weeks by a knee injury. ''Some people look at it like that, but I think it's a good draw.
''If we want to play semi-final football - and be successful - you have to play the tough teams and there is no better preparation than playing some good-quality teams and going into the semi-finals with some confidence under your belt.
''We're looking at playing New Zealand over there as a challenge and not as a daunting task. We have to just go out and play our own game. If we can play our game, and everyone plays to their potential, I can't see why we won't get a result.
''These are the kind of games we'll have to win if we want to do well in the finals.''
The Sharks had needed to overcome some poor refereeing calls, a costly injury toll and an NRL draw that resulted in them playing seven Monday night games to cling to seventh spot on the premiership ladder.
Gallen said after four weeks of intense rehabilitation on an exercise bike he viewed the chance to finally play as an opportunity to release some pent-up frustration after watching Cronulla struggle from the sideline and also the bitterness of the Blues' failed State of Origin campaign.
''It's been a long time and it has been pretty frustrating,'' Gallen said. ''It's probably been 13 or 14 weeks since the original injury occurred. I struggled through the Origin period and obviously I haven't played since Origin III, so I'm looking forward to having a game.''
Gallen also endorsed a call by Canterbury coach Des Hasler for State of Origin to be played on a stand-alone weekend to allow the players time to recover from the intensity of the matches and to give their all for their club teams.
Last year Gallen was granted time off to freshen up and recover from his injuries after he spearheaded the Blues and while it helped he described his recent four-week lay-off as not such a good thing.
''No, it hasn't helped me at all,'' he said. ''Last year I came out of Origin I tore my calf and missed two games; this year it was a bit more of a serious injury and I've missed four weeks. Once you've played Origin and the victory doesn't go your way you just want to go out there and get rid of the frustration with a few wins. I haven't been able to do that, it hasn't been a good thing. Maybe a week or two like last year would've been good but four was very tough.''
Gallen added it was important the code's hierarchy realised the worth of keeping their top players on the field when they met to work out the scheduling of future Origin series.
''I think what they're doing at the moment, talking about the scheduling of the Origin series is all they can do,'' he said.
''You won't please everyone. You're never going to please all the club fans, all the state fans and not even the players, but at the end of the day the players are the product and we should be the people who they please the most.
''Making it a stand-alone weekend is going to be the best thing for the players' health.''
Meanwhile, Sharks fullback Nathan Gardner trained during the week after he had been sidelined by a knee injury he suffered in the dying seconds of the round six match against St George Illawarra.
Gallen revealed during his rehabilitation he had been in Gardner's ear about returning to action. ''Nathan could be back in a couple of weeks,'' he said. ''I'm into him every day to 'up' his rehab.''