The latest chapter in a fierce rivalry between the Cronulla Sharks and Melbourne Storm will be penned on Sunday when the two title contenders meet at AAMI Park.
There has been added spice and intrigue in contests between the teams since the Sharks beat the Storm 14-12 in the 2016 grand final to claim their first premiership. Low-scoring nail-biters have often occurred in recent years.
Cronulla drew first blood against Melbourne earlier this season, grinding out a 14-4 victory at home in round four. On that occasion, the Storm weren't able to score a try – their points coming from two penalty goals.
Both sides have improved considerably since then, with Melbourne sitting in second spot when round 22 kicked off on Thursday night and Cronulla just two points outside the top-four in sixth.
The Sharks will need to lift after a sub-standard 33-32 golden point loss to Manly last weekend that saw them miss 42 tackles. However, the Storm are also in search of a bounce-back win following their convincing defeat at the hands of South Sydney.
Melbourne will be extra fired up this round given the announcement that champion fullback Billy Slater will retire at the conclusion of the season.
It's no secret the Storm will want to make every post in a winner in Slater's last few matches – but Sharks hooker James Segeyaro said Cronulla is well prepared for the challenge.
"It's got to mean a lot to them, but I think it's going to have to mean more to us. Our season is on the line for a chance at the top-four," Segeyaro said.
"Even though Billy is retiring and has been probably the best advocate for the game, especially for the Melbourne Storm for so many years, it's going to have to mean more for us [so we can get] two cracks at the cherry [in the finals]."
The Sharks are under no illusions that they'll need to be near perfect to topple the Storm on their own turf. Cronulla prop Matt Prior admitted the team was frustrated after their sloppy last-start effort against Manly and will be out to avenge the result in Melbourne.
"[It was] very disappointing. It wasn't our best performance of the year. If you're going to play like that, you probably don't deserve to win," Prior said.
The NSW Origin forward said that defence has been the main focus at training as Cronulla looks to restore the usually watertight black, white and blue wall.
"Defence is going to be a big thing we need to improve this week ... [coach Shane Flanagan] definitely wasn't happy. I think we just need to pull our heads in a little bit and not get too carried away.
"We need to start putting in some good performances leading into semis and work on our defence. That's letting us down a little bit at the moment."
Prior, who recently played his 100th match in Cronulla colours, believes facing the Storm will help elevate the Sharks to another level.
"They definitely do bring out the best in us. We've had some strong performances against them in the past and we're looking to do the same [on Sunday]."
Cronulla will field an unchanged team from last round; a rarity in 2018 given the slew of injuries the club has faced. Josh Dugan will don jersey No.2 and again play on the right wing, while Wade Graham is at full health after a stop-start season.
Segeyaro said that building continuity and momentum between players is key with four games remaining in the regular season.
"We've just got to play within each other's roles and play with each other's strengths. Obviously [Dugan and Graham] have missed a fair bit of footy, so they're still finding their ways and roles within the team," said the livewire interchange player.
"Although at certain times [against Manly] our attack looked clunky out there, it's only going to get better. The best opportunity is going to come against Melbourne – they're a great defensive team, so our attack has got to be on song."
For the Storm, winger Suliasi Vunivalu returns in place of Cheyse Blair.
Kick-off between the Sharks and Storm is scheduled for 4:10pm on Sunday. The match will be broadcast live on Channel Nine and Fox League.
The Sharks have trimmed their 21-man squad as selected on Tuesday, back to 19 for the match on Sunday. See the team list below.
NRL Team List – Round 22
Sharks v Storm
Sunday, August 12
Kick-off – 4.10pm
1- Valentine Holmes
2- Josh Dugan
3- Jesse Ramien
4- Ricky Leutele
5- Sione Katoa
6- Matt Moylan
7- Chad Townsend
8- Andrew Fifita
9- Jayden Brailey
10- Matt Prior
11- Luke Lewis
12- Wade Graham
13- Paul Gallen
14- Scott Sorensen
15- James Segeyaro
16- Aaron Woods
17- Jayson Bukuya
18- Joseph Paulo
20- Sosaia Feki
Head-to-head: Played 35; Sharks 13 wins, Storm 22 wins
Previous result: Sharks won 14-4 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round four
Points per game: Sharks 20.3; Storm 23.8
Points conceded per game: Sharks 18.2; Storm 15.6
(Stats via NRL.com)