It will be a desperate Cronulla side tonight when they travel to Pirtek Stadium to face the Eels, with a victory having the potential to move the Sharks within two wins of a place in the top eight.
The NRL ladder tightly bunched, with the Storm eighth on 10, the Cowboys ninth on 8, and with the rep rounds just a few weeks away, a win is crucial for a Sharks team who would hope to build some momentum with a second on the trot.
But to do so the Sharks will need to be close to their best against a Parramatta side displaying much greater commitment than in previous seasons.
The Eels have four wins from the first eight rounds and will be eying a top eight berth with a home victory over the Sharks.
Helping the Sharks cause will be the return of international backrower Luke Lewis who in an interesting shift, goes into the five eighth position for the game tonight in place of the injured Todd Carney.
“I’m excited about it, I love different challenges,” Lewis said about his positional change. “I just can’t wait for my first game, my first tackle tonight.
“Fingers crossed we can have a good game and come away with a nice win.”
For Lewis the return has been a frustratingly long one, with the injury to his shoulder occurring at the World Cup prior to Christmas. As he has found however, there was no point in rushing his comeback and now having regained full fitness he is primed for a big game against the Eels.
“I was really hopeful of being back in round five or six but the operation was a lot bigger than I first thought,” Lewis said. I probably could have played against Penrith, would have been good to come back against my old side, but I wouldn’t have been ready and I wouldn’t have been coming back for the right reasons.”
While Lewis is certainly a bonus to his teams’ chances, the absence of Carney notwithstanding, the Sharks will field a team getting a much more formidable look than earlier in the season when injuries had decimated the squad.
Skipper Paul Gallen will play his third match after returning from an ankle injury, while Andrew Fifita will explain his head is a lot clearer and more focused on football with his contract dramas behind him.
Giving Fifita even more incentive to play well tonight will be the possible inclusion of twin brother David, who is primed to play his second game in the NRL and the first alongside his sibling.
David Fifita trained as a part of a 19-man squad at the teams’ final session on Sunday, with coach Peter Sharp to make a final decision on his 17 in the hours before kickoff later today.
The Sharks v Eels match will be played for the Johhny Mannah Cup, in honour of the late Sharks and Eels front rower who tragically passed away after a spirited battle with cancer. Parramatta are t eh current holders of the trophy.
The NRL game will get underway at 7.00pm at Pirtek Stadium, with the NYC clash scheduled to begin at 4.45pm.
For those unable to get to the game, Sharkies Leagues Club will be showing the match live on the big screen in the main bar.