The Sharks will put a top four berth and two shots during the Finals Series on the line when they host the Manly Sea Eagles at Remondis Stadium on Sunday.
With a Melbourne Storm win in Brisbane on Thursday night, only a victory over their arch rivals will see the Sharks remain in the coveted top four, meaning the Manly match is critical to the Cronulla clubs’ chances of progressing over the coming weeks.
While assured of playing next week, albeit unsure of their finishing position and potential opponent, the Sharks have a job to do against the Sea Eagles, a team they have struggled with in recent times.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan is happy to have the Sea Eagles in his ‘nest’ this weekend and is hopeful of a positive result.
“A lot of things can change over the next few weeks but it’s a good position to be in,” Flanagan said. “But we’re not looking too far ahead, we’ve got Manly first.”
On the back of two wins in a row and seven of their last nine, the Sharks head into Sunday confident but aware of the challenge Manly will present.
“The Tigers and Parramatta, they were tricky games we needed to win and we found a way. We need to find a way again on Sunday,” Flanagan said. “The priority for me is to go into semi-finals on the back of winning form. It will be top four if we win, but winning form is important as well.”
The task however won’t be an easy one for Flanagan and his team, with Manly boasting a world-class backline and a quality halves pairing. Add to that the fact that they will be determined to send outgoing coach Geoff Toovey out on a winning note and Sunday will be a difficult assignment.
“He’s been a good coach for them but I’m sure he’ll pop up somewhere. They have a bit to play for and so do we. Top four, in front of a big crowd, we have a lot to play for as well.”
For the Sharks the equation is simple, win and they set up a meeting with minor premiers the Roosters in week one of the finals, lose to the Sea Eagles and they could slip as low as seventh.
With Manly outside the eight and dependant on other results, only a miracle will see them contest the Finals next week.
However rather than dwell on what might happen, Flanagan preferred to keep the equation simple ahead of Sunday’s game.
“We’re concentrating on what we can control. Win on the weekend and we’re in the top four and all the talk is over,” he added.
The Sharks go into the game with an 18-man squad as was announced on Tuesday.
After two weeks on the sidelines Ben Barba returns as a part of a five-man interchange bench. Flanagan intimated Barba would likely get some game time come Sunday, however he wasn’t as forthcoming as to who might drop off the bench and miss the game with the Sea Eagles.
The Sharks and Sea Eagles have met once this season already, with Manly coming out on top 28-16 in a round 17 clash played at Brookvale Oval. In fact the last time the Sharks got the better of their traditional rivals was way back in 2012 when they registered a narrow win at Remondis Stadium.
Overall in matches between the two clubs Manly hold a distinct advantage, having won 60 games as opposed to 23 wins by the Sharks, while at Remondis Stadium Cronulla have 15 victories, the Sea Eagles 19.
The game on Father’s Day this Sunday, which will be played for the Steve Rogers Cup, will see the Sharks play in special Hi-Vis yellow jerseys in support of the ‘Play Safe, Work Safe’ program and in partnership with Hume Doors and Timber.
Kick off to the NRL game is at 4.00pm, with the NYC match getting underway at 1.45pm.
Gates to Remondis Stadium open at 1.30pm.
Hume Doors and Timber are the game day sponsors for the Sharks v Sea Eagles match on Sunday.