‘Birthday boy’ to lead the way
Rumour has it that while Paul Gallen had a number of wishes on his 33rd birthday earlier this week, top of the list was for him to be fit and healthy ahead of the Sharks clash with the Melbourne Storm.
Second on the wish list would be for the Sharks to cause an upset against one of the competition favourites and to return from the Victorian capital with a much-needed victory.
Capping off a year highlighted by Origin success but frustrated by injury, Gallen was struck down with a severe virus in the days leading into the Warriors game, resulting in him being sent home early and missing the narrow loss to the New Zealand side.
This Saturday however the Sharks inspirational skipper will be front and centre when his team takes on a Storm outfit desperate for a win to stay in the hunt for a finals berth.
On the flip side, while out of playoff contention, the Sharks will be just as keen to register a victory in their bid to climb off the bottom of the NRL ladder.
After illness ravaged the camp in the lead up to the Warriors match the training week has been somewhat less tumultuous for the Sharks ahead of the trip to Melbourne.
Gallen, Fa’amanu Brown, Ricky Leutele and Junior Roqica, four players most affected by the virus last weekend, have trained strongly and are raring to go.
Making the task somewhat more difficult however is the loss of strike front rowers Andrew Fifita and Sam Tagataese from the team which took on the Warriors. Both players will miss the final four games of the year, Fifita with a broken arm and Tagataese due to suspension.
In their place Tim Robinson and Matt Prior have been selected to start in the front row. Prior handing in perhaps his best performance in Sharks colours in the Warriors loss last Sunday and both will relish the opportunity to show their wares against the highly rated Storm pack.
However while the Storm forwards will pose a challenge, the most difficult assignment for the Sharks will be controlling the Melbourne firepower out wide, with Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Will Chambers posing a threat to opposition defences every time they take to the field.
Injuries and suspensions aside, even when full strength the Sharks find the Melbourne road trip a difficult one, with the Storm enjoying a perfect 4-0 record in matches played at AAMI Park.
The total win-loss between the two clubs stands at 17-9 to Melbourne, while seven of the past eight matches, dating back to the 2008 finals, has seen the Storm emerge victorious.
The Sharks v Storm clash is scheduled for a 5.30pm kick off at AAMI Stadium on Saturday.
NOTE: For those fans not travelling to Melbourne to support the Sharks, why not take in the NSW Cup clash between the Sharks and Wyong Roos at Remondis Stadium, before adjourning to Sharkies Leagues Club to watch the big game.
The NSW Cup match is at 3.00pm at Remondis, with entry FREE, while the NRL match, to be shown on the big screen in the main bar, gets underway at 5.30pm.