As far as Sharks Coach Shane Flanagan is concerned, the absence of Warriors star Shaun Johnson might not be as significant as many would have you believe.
While acknowledging Johnson’s ability to play off the cuff, to dazzle the opposition with his footwork and speed and to deliver a match winning play, Flanagan is just as wary about his replacement.
With Johnson out of action for an extended period, Mason Lino was called up into the NRL side for the match against the Cowboys last week, with the youngster almost getting the Warriors home against the odds and away from home.
“I thought the kid, Mason Lino, played outstanding last week,” Flanagan said. “He’s more of a genuine halfback and that’s not taking anything away from Shaun.
“I thought he took a lot of pressure off Kieran (Foran) and handled the ball a lot. The players around him knew what he was going to do. A lot don’t know what Shaun is going to do, but that’s also what makes him exciting.
“Mason is a down and out half and he’s really consistent in the way he plays.”
However, while the Kiwi side will be without their main strike weapon, still a big loss despite Flanagan’s praise of his replacement, the Sharks also face some disruption in the halves themselves with James Maloney set to miss the next 2-3 matches.
Maloney broke his hand late in the game against Souths, with the identity of his substitute still unclear.
Flanagan has named Fa’amanu Brown in the six jersey, but also has the option of shifting Jack Bird from the centres into five eighth. As to which way he might go, Flanagan has left everyone guessing.
“I’ll keep that one to myself for now until game time,” Flanagan said before departing for New Zealand. “We’ve got another training run tomorrow, then I’ll make a final decision.”
Having moved into the top four with the win over Souths, coupled with a loss by the Manly Sea Eagles, each game from now until the finals is crucial in determining finishing positions, something about which Flanagan is acutely aware ahead of the clash in Auckland on Friday.
“We have some really important games over the next month. We need to go over there and get the two points. If we want to be a top four team we need to beat the Warriors,” he said.
While is appears certain both Bird and Brown will play against the Warriors, with exactly where the question, the make-up of Flanagan’s bench remains more of a mystery.
With James Segeyaro named to start, Flanagan has decided to take new recruit Adam Cydsdale to New Zealand in a 19-man squad, with the former Knight and Raider a genuine chance to make his Sharks NRL debut.
Since debuting with Newcastle back in 2013, Clydsdale has amassed over 50 games in the top grade and will capably handle the step up should Flanagan give him the call on Friday.
The Sharks v Warriors match is scheduled to get underway at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland at 8.00pm local time (6pm Sydney time).
The Sharks 19-man squad is listed below, with Flanagan to name his final 17 one hour before the match.
NRL Team List – Round 21
Sharks v Warriors
Friday, July 28
Mount Smart Stadium
Kick-off – 6.00pm (Sydney time) 8.00pm (NZ time)
1 - Valentine Holmes
2 - Sosaia Feki
3 - Jack Bird
4 - Ricky Leutele
5 - Gerard Beale
6 - Fa’amanu Brown
7 - Chad Townsend
8 - Andrew Fifita
9 - James Segeyaro
10 - Matt Prior
11 - Luke Lewis
12 - Wade Graham
13 - Paul Gallen
14 - Jayson Bukuya
15 - Chris Heighington
16 - Kurt Capewell
17 - Jeremy Latimore
18 - Joseph Paulo
19 - Adam Clydsdale