Cronulla captain Paul Gallen says it is not too late to replace interim head coach Peter Sharp with an up-and-comer for the rest of the season, arguing that players were not giving their all "because they're under the impression that Sharpie isn't putting 100 per cent in".
In a wildly contrasting past five days Gallen revelled in the euphoria of leading the Blues to a first State of Origin series win in nine years before being involved as Cronulla etched themselves an unwanted place in premiership history 72 hours later by becoming the first team to be held scoreless in three successive matches.
A 26-0 defeat by Manly on Saturday night elevated their danger of collecting the NRL wooden spoon and Gallen indicated the coach's attitude was not helping the chances of the Sharks, who have won only two of 13 matches.
Sharp, bumped up from an assistant to cover for the suspended Shane Flanagan, made no secret of his reluctance to coach at first-grade level again when he stepped into the post and Cronulla's frustrated captain believes that has had a flow-on effect to the players. Running second last on the NRL ladder, the Sharks also continue to try and cope with the shadow of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority inquiry, with anxiety lifted since 34 past and present players from AFL team Essendon were sent show-cause notices by the drugs-in-sport watchdog.
"I don't want to sit here and bag Sharpie, but Sharpie has just been thrown in the deep end. He came out day one and said he doesn't want the job," Gallen told Triple M radio on Sunday. "Now that, mentally, to everyone...to me players are like schoolkids. If you can get away with a little bit you're going to. If you know your team can turn up Monday and your coach isn't going to rouse on you for not having a good game, I don't think you're going to put 100 per cent in. And I think that's been the problem throughout the whole year. I don't think players have been putting 100 per cent in because they're under the impression that Sharpie isn't putting 100 per cent in."
Flanagan, stood down by the NRL over what were deemed failures in management associated with the club's controversial supplements program in 2011, is due to reclaim control at Cronulla in mid-September, by which time the Sharks' campaign will - barring a miracle - be over. He has also signed on as head coach until the end of the 2017 season and Gallen said the Sharks might have been better served by having a rising coach with NRL ambitions running the team in Flanagan's' absence instead of Sharp.
The 32-year-old identified Brett Kimmorley, his former Cronulla teammate who is in the final year of an assistant coaching and development role at Canberra, as being an ideal candidate who had been discussed. "It has been spoken about. I know one person I have spoken to and asked about is Brett Kimmorley," Gallen said. "But he's still down in Canberra and the club have decided against it. I don't think it's too late because there's still I think 10 games to go in the season. I don't want to win the wooden spoon. I don't know if it's an option or not. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win some games."
Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce confirmed the subject of bringing in another coach had been raised but the Sharks would be standing by Sharp until he resumed his job as an assistant upon Flanagan's return. "As a club we all want to have more success and everyone will have a different view on what the answers are," Noyce said. "Obviously there has been that sort of suggestion - there's been lots of different suggestions. Peter, certainly early on, I think every one was aware that, using your words, he may have been a reluctant first-grade coach. But he fully understands he is the first-grade coach for the 2014 season. We're comfortable with the coaching set-up that we've got. We've just got to stick together, work harder, work smarter and make sure we turn it around."