NRL MATCH PREVIEW | Sharks v Bulldogs
With the ‘sold out’ sign officially posted more than 24-hours out from the Sharks v Bulldogs blockbuster at Belmore Sports Ground, a bumper crowd and electric atmosphere is assured for a match set to have serious finals ramifications for both teams.
A game matching two clubs on 22 competition points and pushing hard to establish themselves in the top eight, the game is the easily most anticipated of round 20.
“The senior players are looking forward to the challenge and to see where we sit with the best teams,” Sharks Coach Shane Flanagan said. “The whole squad is looking forward to going there, playing in a hostile environment and getting the two competition points.
“It’ll be a real test this weekend but there’s a lot of belief and a lot of confidence within the team.”
Plenty of talk heading into this weekend’s match has centered around Michael Ennis and his first game against the club he captained to a Grand Final appearance in 2014.
Flanagan wasn’t too worried about the reception Ennis might receive from the crowd and from his former teammates and had no doubt his experienced playmaker would handle the occasion.
“He’s looking forward to the game. He’s really enjoying his football and this is a big game for him. When the draw came out I’m sure he penciled this game in.
“But he’s a professional and he can’t wait to get out there. But it’s not about him, it’s about getting the two competition points and he’ll put the team before himself.”
The Sharks have also kept their cards close to their chest in relation to the possible return of Anthony Tupou, with the experienced back rower named on an extended bench.
Tupou has been missing from the Sharks line up since badly breaking his jaw in a game against the Warriors back in round nine.
Joining Tupou as a potential interchange player is Ben Barba, with the Sharks utility been passed fit after missing the Raiders game with a knee injury. They were the Sharks only two injury concerns as they head into the game tomorrow with a clean bill of health.
“We’re pretty healthy at the moment, Benny Barba should be okay and Anthony Tupou is very close, so I’ve got a few selection decisions heading into the game but that’s a good position to be in,” Flanagan added.
“Toops is itching ready to go but it’s a decision whether I throw him in this week but he will definitely be available next week. “
Should Tupou be held back another week as is likely, Flanagan’s selection dilemma will be fitting five players into four on his interchange bench, with all selected in solid form and more than worthy of inclusion.
Barba appears to be a certainty to be one of the four bench players, with his versatility and x-factor set to be a benefit to the Sharks as the game wears on.
The Sharks will be playing at Belmore for the first time since 1997, with their record at Canterbury’s traditional home ground reading 19 wins for the Bulldogs against eight for the Sharks.
In the overall head-to-head record the Bulldogs again come out on top, with the Sharks winning just 30 of the 86 matches played.
The last time the two teams met the Bulldogs scored a resounding 42-4 win in a game contested at ANZ Stadium early in the 2014 season, while the last victory for the Sharks over the Bulldogs was back in 2011.
Sunday’s game, which officially sold out earlier today, is scheduled for a 4:00pm kick-off, with Channel 9 showing the match live on free-to-air.
For those Sharks fans unable to get a ticket to tomorrow's game The Locker Room in Sharkies Leagues Club is the perfect place to catch all the action.