NRL Preview – Sharks v Souths
After slipping out of the top four following a disappointing defeat on the Gold Coast last Saturday, the Sharks will be keen to re-establish their premiership credentials at home and on a night celebrating 300-games for star back rower Luke Lewis.
Just six days ago in a match played in atrocious conditions the Sharks slipped and stumbled to a 30-10 loss, however a week as they say is a long time in the NRL with the Friday night clash with Souths a chance to atone.
As important as the two competition points are in terms of the Sharks finals aspirations, they will be equally keen to chalk up a win to make Lewis’s milestone match a memorable one.
In his fifth season at the Cronulla club and following over 200 games at the Penrith Panthers, Lewis has evolved into the complete player.
Add 16 Tests for Australia, 17 Origin games for NSW and Lewis has enjoyed a stellar career, one as Flanagan explains is far from winding down.
“Everyone thought he was going to sail off into the sunset, but his form has been fantastic this year,” Flanagan said. “He’s been a good quality person and he should hold his head up when he runs out tomorrow.”
However as crucial as Lewis’s contribution will be on the night, the Sharks will also be hoping to receive major input from his State of Origin stars.
Pleased the Origin series is now behind them, with the Sharks contributing five players to the cause, Flanagan looks forward their attention being back in club land and focussing on the run into the finals.
“I’m glad to get Origin over and done with and to get our players back training consistently with our team. To have players away six, seven weeks, important players who we’ve missed over that time,” he said.
“The next seven weeks are what we’ve got to focus on.”
As for some of those about who Flanagan speaks, Andrew Fifita has been heavily scrutinised in the media since the Origin decider but the coach in confident his mind will be back on the job on Friday night.
“It’s probably been a little bit unwarranted (the Origin selection incident). He said he didn’t know much about it and it doesn’t affect us down here at Cronulla.
“He’s (Fifita) in a good head space now,” Flanagan said.
While the Sharks are desperate for the two competition points, even more so will be the South Sydney side, currently languishing in 14th position with nothing less than a win needed if they want to keep their slim finals hopes alive.
New Sharks recruit Aaron Gray will be on one wing for the Rabbitohs, but their strength lies in a robust forward pack, led by Captain Sam Burgess and young gun Angus Crichton.
Throw in veteran hooker Robbie Farah at hooker and a dangerous halves combination in John Sutton and Adam Reynolds, and Souths will present a difficult challenge in the match scheduled for Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Flanagan has cut his squad back from the 21 originally named on Tuesday, with the 19-man team listed below. He will name his 17 one hour before kick-off tomorrow.
The Sharks v Souths match gets underway at 7.50pm.
NRL Team List – Round 20
Sharks v Rabbitohs
Friday, July 21
Southern Cross Group Stadium
Kick-off – 7.50pm
1 - Valentine Holmes
2 - Sosaia Feki
3 - Jack Bird
4 - Ricky Leutele
5 - Gerard Beale
6 - James Maloney
7 - Chad Townsend
8 - Andrew Fifita
9 - Fa’amanu Brown
10 - Matt Prior
11 - Luke Lewis
12 - Wade Graham
13 - Paul Gallen
14 - Jayson Bukuya
15 - Chris Heighington
17 - James Segeyaro
18 - Jeremy Latimore
19 – Kurt Capewell
20 – Edrick Lee
Tale of the tape
Head to Head
Sharks 44 wins
At Southern Cross Group Stadium
Sharks 29 wins
Past 8 matches
Sharks 4 wins
Sharks 42 Souths 0 – Caltex Field, 1994
Souths 43 Sharks 4 – Redfern Oval, 1969