The Raiders match represents the start of a big month for a Sharks side looking to claim a top four berth, while Saturday night is the last throw of the dice for a Canberra team desperately fighting to be a part of the NRL Finals series.
It’s a crucial game for both teams, with the Sharks placing plenty of importance on tomorrow night’s clash.
“We’ve got a couple of big weeks coming up and this is an important time of the year for us,” Sharks back rower Wade Graham said. “With how tight and congested the competition is, it’s important we keep ticking the wins over to cement a spot in the top four.”
Similarly, Graham’s teammate Chris Heighington explained a top four finish was always a part of the plan, with a win over the Raiders imperative should they hope to keep that dream alive.
“It was a goal we set earlier this year and we’re on track to do that but it can quickly go the other way. We’ve got a couple of hard games coming up and none harder than Canberra,” Heighington said.
“They’re a tough team to play. They are very dynamic and hard to handle when they play their best footy. We’ve come up against them a few times in recent times and they’re always a handful.
“It’s a critical game, but we’ve done everything we can to get ready to play,” he said.
While the Sharks will again be without James Maloney, the Raiders welcome back two of their stars in Jordan Rapana and Josh Papalli, with the pair missing from the team that beat Souths last weekend.
Sitting in 10th place, four points outside the top eight, the Raiders showed glimpses of their best against the Rabbitohs, but even they would admit their form has been inconsistent throughout 2017.
Although the Sharks have recorded five more wins than their opponents through the 21 rounds played, they too have been somewhat up and down during the season, but two grinding wins in a row has them where they need to be with the finishing line in sight.
Maloney managed to see out the Souths match despite breaking a hand early in the second half, however the NSW number six sat out the Warriors win, his place taken by utility Fa’amanu Brown.
The versatile Brown scored an opportunistic try against the Kiwi side but was later concussed and stretchered from the field following a second-half head knock.
Brown has passed all the concussion protocols since the incident, has been retained in the 19-man squad and looks set to take his place in the Sharks 17.
After playing more than 60-minutes in the Warriors game James Segeyaro is returning to somewhere near peak fitness, with his clash with the Raiders English hooker Josh Hodgson to go a long way towards deciding a result.
In other team news Adam Clydsdale, a former Raider who debuted for the Sharks in the Warriors match, has been retained in the 19-man squad, with a decision as to the make-up of the final 17 to be made one hour before kick-off.
The Sharks v Raiders game gets underway at 7.30pm at Southern Cross Group Stadium tomorrow (Saturday) night.
Tale of the Tape
Head to Head
Sharks 37 wins
At Southern Cross Group Stadium
Sharks 20 wins
Past eight matches
Sharks 5 wins
Biggest winning margins
Sharks 44 Canberra 5, 1982
Canberra 56 Sharks 12, 1994
NRL Team List – Round 22
Sharks v Raiders
Saturday, August 5
Southern Cross Group Stadium
Kick-off – 7.30pm
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 - Jeremy Latimore
17 - Kurt Capewell
18 - Adam Clydsdale
19 - Joseph Paulo