An energetic final training session on a warm September morning has put the finishing touches on Sharks preparations for their clash with the Raiders in Canberra tomorrow.
The players left Southern Cross Group Stadium, jumped aboard a bus, with all thoughts now turning towards Saturday night in the national capital.
“We saw a bit of excitement at training today, we’ll jump on the bus and get down there,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said. “There is definitely an air of excitement amongst the group.”
The Sharks head into week one of the finals on the back of a loss to the Storm, with the challenge which awaits being a flying Raiders outfit coming into the game on the back of a 10-match winning streak.
A handful of line breaks against the Storm came to nothing, while leaking 26 points also proved to be disappointing, however Flanagan believes his team learnt some valuable lessons down in Melbourne last Saturday night.
“I thought it was outstanding for us to go down there and play against a side like the Storm,” he said. “A team with their act together and playing some good footy and the way they play is what you need to do in finals footy.
“We had our moments against the Storm and we just have to capitalise on the opportunities we create.”
Whatever those opportunities are which will present tomorrow night, the Sharks will need to be close to their best if they harbour ambitions of turning around a loss to the Raiders the last time the two teams met.
On that occasion a Sharks team without Michael Ennis were no match for a red hot Raiders team in going down by 30-14 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
“They were intense and we probably weren’t at our best that night, but we’ve learnt from it. It’s a real challenge but it’s a great time of the year and we’re all looking forward to it,” Flanagan added.
One key player for Canberra all year has been Josh Hodgson, with the English hooker instrumental in the Raiders victory over the Sharks back in round 22.
Flanagan has a simple recipe for success against the Canberra number nine.
“Tackle him really hard,” he joked when quizzed on his defensive tactics.
Then taking a more serious tone; “He’s a quality player and we need to be switched on and concentrate on what we do on him.”
While the past month has been a tough one for a Sharks team which dominated during the middle section of the 2016 season, they are still entitled to head south with an air of confidence, considering their 17 victories this year.
Also giving the Sharks cause to be optimistic is their recent record against the Raiders down at GIO Stadium.
Earlier this year the Sharks managed a 40-16 victory in Canberra, with the win their third in a row against the Raiders away from home.
In fact in the 25 matches played at GIO Stadium the ledger stands at 14 wins to the Raiders and 11 to the Sharks, adding up to a reasonable record for what is traditionally a difficult road trip.
The Sharks were reporting no major injury concerns with the 18 players selected, with a final decision on the make-up of the interchange bench to be made tomorrow.
Named in jersey 18, Kurt Capewell will make the trip to Canberra with the Sharks squad.
The Sharks v Raiders finals clash is officially a sell-out, with kick-off ot the big game scheduled for 5.35pm.
There's been plenty of talk around the league this week about the importance of a quality hooker in this Finals Series and this match is no different.
Michael Ennis has been one of Cronulla's best over the past two years, with the Sharks losing every match that Ennis has missed over that space of time.
On the other side of the equation, Josh Hodgson will be as equally as important for the Canberra side, playing as an extra ball player in the middle of the park.
Get set to see plenty of action from both no.9s!
Head-to-Head: Played 66, Cronulla 35, Canberra 31
At GIO Stadium: Played 25, Canberra 14, Cronulla 11
Last 5 Meetings
Round 22, 2016: Raiders 30 def. Sharks 14 @ Southern Cross Group Stadium
Round 7, 2016: Sharks 40 def. Raiders 16 @ GIO Stadium
Round 19, 2015: Sharks 21 def. Raiders 20 @ GIO Stadium
Round 1, 2015: Raiders 24 def. Sharks 20 @ Remondis Stadium
Round 24, 2014: Raiders 22 def. Sharks 12 @ Remondis Staidum
HTH: Raiders ($1.52) v Sharks ($2.60)
Line: Storm -5.5 ($1.92) v Sharks +5.5 ($1.92)
First Try Scorer: Jordan Rapana ($9), Valentine Holmes ($10), Jarrod Crocker ($10), Eddrick Lee ($11), Sosaia Feki ($12).
*Prices quited at 17:00pm Friday, September 9. For the latest odds and more markets on the match, click here.
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