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Seven wins from their last eight matches has everybody on notice that the Warriors are a team to be taken seriously in 2013.

Even more so playing at home in front of a stadium full of passionate fans, the Kiwis present a formidable challenge, and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan is under no illusion as to the difficulty of the task facing his team in the crucial game at Mt Smart on Saturday.

They are playing good and especially at home were expecting a tough game, Flanagan said. We really need to be at our best.

While Flanagan will concede his team was far from perfect in their last start win over the Panthers, the defensive effort was strong and the overall performance a vast improvement over the previous weeks loss to the Roosters.

Backing up the Penrith victory with a win over the Warriors this week would potentially give his team some breathing space in the battle for a finals berth, but Flanagan is aware the Warriors have a number of attacking weapons, which in recent weeks they have taken delight in unloading on unsuspecting defenses.

They are scoring some great tries so well have to be smart defensively. The Warriors back themselves to score more points than you, so I really think you have to concentrate on your defense, he said.

(Shaun) Johnson and Kevin Locke have been going really good, youve got to be tight around Feleti Mateo or youll be in trouble and (Thomas) Leuluai is playing some great footy, scored a great try on the weekend against Melbourne who are a really good defensive team, Flanagan added.

Boosting both the Sharks confidence as well as their chances over in Auckland on Saturday will be the return of inspirational skipper Paul Gallen in what will be his first game back since injuring his foot in Origin Game 2.

Gallen has made slow progress in his recovery from the nagging injury but boarded the plane to New Zealand on Saturday and is fit a raring to go.

Gal trained well today and Im looking forward to getting him back for the end of the season. He hasnt played a lot for us this year, only nine games, less than half, but hes really confident with his injury and were a much better team with Gal in there, Flanagan said.

Although no doubt a tough place to play for visiting teams, the Sharks boast a reasonable record in matches played between the two clubs at Mt Stadium.

The Sharks have won five of 13 games played and interestingly recorded their biggest win over the Warriors just last season, and at Mt Smart to boot, when they won 45-4. In the head to head record overall the Sharks hold a narrow 16-14 advantage.

The teams have already met once in 2013, at Remondis Stadium in round three with the Sharks coming out on top by 28-4, but now some 18 rounds later are faced with an entirely different, much more confident Warriors side.

The 18 selected Sharks players boarded the plane bound for Auckland on Friday, with no surprise inclusions in the squad. Tyrone Peachey is travelling as 18th man and is expected to be the one to miss out this weekend.

The match is scheduled to kick off at the unfamiliar time of 3.00pm (Sydney time) on Saturday, 5.00pm in New Zealand, with the game to be televised live on Fox Sports.
Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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