NRL PREVIEW | Sharks v Knights
Skipper Paul Gallen looks likely to succumb to a rib cartilage injury, however Ben Barba could make a surprise return from a similar injury concern when the Sharks tackle the Knights in Newcastle on Sunday.
Gallen was injured early in the NSW victory over Queensland in the second Origin match, with the NSW captain battling on bravely in the second period in helping the Blues claim what was an impressive win.
Reports and scans indicate no serious damage to the rib cartilage and while the Sharks medical staff have advised Gallen against taking the field on Sunday, the inspirational leader will do all he can to help guide his team to what would be an important two competition points.
On the flip side, as indicated by coach Shane Flanagan at his weekly media call, Barba is set to make a surprise return after training strongly this week.
Flanagan said Barba would likely travel to Newcastle as a part of his 18-man squad, with a decision to be made on his status after the teams final training run today.
Should he be included in the Sharks 17, Barba could be used in a utility role, covering both the halves and fullback positions.
Other than the uncertainty around Gallen and Barba the Sharks have enjoyed a solid preparation for the Knights match, with the week off following the win over Roosters enabling many in the squad to treat any bumps and bruises or any niggling injury concerns.
However while they will head north in a confident frame of mind, the Sharks will need to be on their game should they hope to better the Knights at a venue they have traditionally found difficult to win at.
In 20 trips to the Hunter the Knights hold a commanding 14-5 win advantage, with the Newcastle side thumping the Sharks 30-0 the last time the two teams met away from Remondis Stadium.
Earlier this year the Sharks did manage to turn the tables, scoring a 22-6 win over the Knights on a damp Friday evening at home.
While the Sharks have every reason to be confident, coming off perhaps their best defensive performance of the season when they beat the Roosters 10-4 before the Bye, the Knights welcome back half back Tyrone Roberts, with veteran backrower and former Shark Jeremy Smith a chance of also returning from a hamstring injury.
In a positional shift for the Newcastle side the versatile Kurt Gidley has shifted to fullback, with Dane Gagai going back to his preferred position of centre.
The Sharks v Knights match is scheduled for a 2.00pm kick-off on Sunday at Hunter Stadium, with the match to be telecast live on Fox Sports.
The NYC clash is also scheduled for live television coverage on Fox, with that match getting underway at 11.45am.