Sunday afternoon in the Sutherland Shire, up against the competition-leading Brisbane Broncos, shapes as a mouth-watering match up, one which will give the Sharks some sort of indication as to their premiership credentials in 2016.
The Sharks have won five matches on the trot to sit in equal second on the ladder, but the team they trail is the Broncos, with Wayne Bennett’s boys from Brisbane sitting atop the table after an impressive start to the season.
No question the Sharks will be up for the challenge, with coach Shane Flanagan revealing the thoughts of his players turned to this weekend and the Broncos at almost the same time as the hooter sounded on the win over the Panthers last weekend.
“As soon as they cut their strapping off last week they were looking forward to this weekend,” Flanagan said. “Competition leaders, at home, the players are excited, no excuses.”
Similarly second-rower Wade Graham was counting the days until Sunday came around, while at the same time expressing some admiration for the form of their opponents so far this year.
“It can’t get any better. At home, Sunday arvo, packed house. I’m excited, I can’t wait,” Graham said. They’re playing great footy. I’ve enjoyed watching them play, they play an expansive style and they’re ripping in for each other.”
While the coach and players have understandably trotted out the clichés about concentrating on their game this weekend rather than getting too wrapped up in what the Broncos will bring, you can’t help be somewhat wary about some of the weapons the Brisbane side possess.
The Brisbane forward back contains five internationals, while in the backs Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, James Roberts and Ben Hunt will all bring their individual talents to challenge the Sharks.
And that’s not to mention the man spoken about as the form player of the competition after eight rounds of the 2016 competition Anthony Milford.
“Milford is going to throw some stuff at you, show and go, skipping across our line, some of the kicks they put in, we need to be good at defending the structured attack as well as his unstructured stuff,” Flanagan said.
As for the Sharks, they too have a number of players in excellent form, none better than prop Andrew Fifita, fullback Ben Barba and halves Chad Townsend and James Maloney.
Paul Gallen will want to get one up on his five Kangaroo teammates in the Broncos line-up before they all get together in the Australian team camp, with Michael Ennis and Wade Graham looking to prove themselves against quality opposition with NSW selectors set to cast a keen eye on proceedings.
It all sets up an intriguing match-up, with the Sharks fit and raring to go.
“The same 17 named will play, I might change the way we start, but you’ll have to be there to see what runs out,” Flanagan added with a wry smile.
Interestingly in matches played between the two clubs, success has recently been achieved away from home, with both the Sharks and Brisbane winning their past three matches in opposition territory.
Overall the Broncos hold a 31-19 win-loss advantage in games played, while at Southern Cross Group Stadium the Sharks have registered 11 victories in the 21 matches contested.
The teams clashed just once in 2015, with Brisbane winning 10-2 in a round two match.
The Sharks v Brisbane match is scheduled to get underway at 4.00pm at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday.
Tickets are selling fast, with fans looking to attend encouraged to pre-purchase to avoid potential disappointment.