Cronulla could be forced to throw an untested rookie into the NRL finals furnace or recall Matt Moylan after Connor Tracey limped out of their final-round 24-6 win over 12-man Canberra.
The Raiders’ spluttering season took a further body blow with winger Seb Kris sent off for an ugly second-half spear tackle on Cronulla counterpart Sione Katoa
With Canbera already without State of Origin forwards Corey Horsburgh and Josh Papalii, Kris’s absence will make matters still harder for Ricky Stuart’s men as they travel to an elimination final against red-hot Newcastle on Sunday.
Cronulla will be concerned by the availability of Tracey for the other elimination final when they host the Sydney Roosters at PointsBet Stadium on Saturday.
Tracey was seen leaving the same venue on Sunday in a leg brace.
The fullback has a history of knee issues and the news could not have come at a worse time for Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon.
“Connor jammed his knee. They weren’t thinking it was anything like an ACL or a medial,” Fitzgibbon said.
“It could be something or it could be nothing. We’ll hang by and see how Connor is.”
Fitzgibbon wouldn’t be drawn on who would come in for Tracey but first-choice fullback Will Kennedy is out of calculations, being sidelined with a hamstring issue.
That may force the Sharks to turn to 22-year-old Daniel Atkinson or recall the veteran Moylan.
Atkinson has played just two minutes of NRL all season after signing from Melbourne last summer.
It could be a baptism of fire for the unproven No.1, but a buoyant home crowd should help.
The Cronulla locals were stunned into silence when Jordan Rapana opened the scoring on Sunday, pinching a ball out of Tracey’s hands to touch down after six minutes.
Jesse Ramien and Jack Williams hit back either side of the break for the Sharks before Kris’s 60th minute send-off opened the floodgates.
Katoa, Ronaldo Mulitalo and Braydon Trindall extended Cronulla’s advantage and helped them to their first win over Canberra since 2018.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart did not comment on Kris’s tackle but said his side showed character.
“It was a little bit like last week - we got ourselves into a game but you do need a little bit of luck sometimes,” Stuart said.
“If we were a little bit better over the last month we could’ve been in the top four, but I’m so proud of them making the top eight.”
Stuart again deployed five-eighth Jack Wighton in the centres and wouldn’t elaborate on whether he was satisfied with his output with Matt Frawley in the No. 6.