The defending premiers, determined and ready to begin a charge for back-to-back titles, against a team missing a couple of their big guns who limped into the finals with five losses in their last six matches.
It’s an Elimination Final where the Sharks will go in as red-hot favourites to progress against a North Queensland Cowboys team which has battled to overcome the absence of a couple of key personnel.
But if only it was as simple and as cut and dried as that, with the Sharks under no illusions as to the challenge that the Cowboys are set to present.
“They’re a quality side, they’ve got plenty of ability. They’re no mugs and have a really talented footy roster,” James Maloney said. “We’re going to have to play really well to beat them.”
Veteran forward Chris Heighington was quick to agree, while at the same time preferring to worry about the players set to run out this weekend, rather than the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott who will be missing through injury.
“(Michael) Morgan has stepped up, gets his hands on the ball a lot of the time. They’ve got (Jason) Taumalolo and (Cohen) Hess, a State of Origin star coming off the bench,” Heighington said.
“They’ve got really good forwards and it’s going to be a good battle in the middle. They’re a tough outfit and we’re looking forward to the game on Sunday,” he said.
While coach Shane Flanagan weighed in with some similar sentiments.
“They’re a good footy team, they’ve competed hard this year, and we need to all stand up this week,” Flanagan said.
Maloney, with his comments echoed by Flanagan, was of the belief the preparations had been solid, with the Sharks now needing to produce the goods when it matters on Sunday.
“Physically and mentally, everyone is where they need to be, now it’s just about us putting on a performance,” Maloney said. “We’re in a position to do whatever we need to do, we’re in control of where we go from here and our performances will determine that.”
“They’ve definitely trained differently, there’s been a different feel,” Flanagan added. “There has been an intensity and a bit of attitude at training.
“This time of year is what we train through the pre-season, the 26 rounds for. This time of year you’ve got to enjoy it and if you play well you get a chance to play in a Grand Final,” the Sharks coach said.
The Sharks find themselves in a sudden-death match after missing the top four and finishing in fifth position.
The Cowboys on the other hand arrive at this point in the season and find themselves matched up with the Sharks after the Bulldogs upset the Dragons in the final round, allowing them to sneak into eighth and into a game against a familiar finals opponent.
The two teams have played finals matches in 2013, 2015 and in the Grand Final qualifier in 2016, the Sharks victorious in the first and last, while going down to a Cowboys side that went on to win the Premiership in 2015.
In another positive for the Sharks, Flanagan is able to welcome back two of his State of Origin reps in Wade Graham and Jack Bird, after the pair missed the game last weekend in Newcastle.
Graham was sidelined for just one match with a bruised calf, while Bird has been out of action since injuring a shoulder back in round 22.
The pair have trained strongly this week and are certain starters in tomorrow’s match.
Plenty of tickets remain available for the game at Allianz Stadium, with train travel included in the ticket price. The Sharks are also providing buses transport to the game, for $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Bookings for the buses can be made through the Sharks Store.
The Sharks v Cowboys Elmination Final is scheduled for a 4.00pm kick off at Allianz Stadium tomorrow.
Below is the Sharks 19-player squad, with the 17-man team to be revealed one-hour before kick off.
NRL TEAM LIST – Finals Week 1
Sharks v Cowboys
Sunday, September 10
Kick-off – 4.00pm
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 - Jayden Brailey
10 - Matt Prior
11 - Luke Lewis
12 - Wade Graham
13 - Paul Gallen
14 - Jayson Bukuya
15 - Chris Heighington
16 - Jeremy Latimore
17 - James Segeyaro
18 - Kurt Capewell
19 – Fa’amanu Brown
20 – Jesse Ramien
21 – Joseph Paulo
Tale of the Tape
Sharks v Cowboys
Head to Head
Sharks 27 wins
At Allianz Stadium
Sharks 2 wins
Past eight clashes
Sharks 6 wins
Sharks 42-Cowboys 6, Toyota Park 2000
Cowboys 56-Sharks 14, Dairy Farmers Stadium, 2005