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NRL Preview - Sharks v Knights

Cronulla's top four hopes could rely on tomorrow's match against the Newcastle Knights at Southern Cross Group Stadium, but the occasion is also significant for other reasons.

The Sharks will honour former player Lance Thompson, who was sadly found dead on Thursday night, by wearing black armbands and holding a tribute before kick-off.

In addition, the fixture is a chance for Cronulla supporters to bid farewell to retiring great Luke Lewis and the departing Edrick Lee, Joseph Paulo, Jesse Ramien and Ricky Leutele.

Regular centres Ramien (ankle) and Leutele (knee) won't take to the field, however, following respective injuries in last Saturday's victory over the Cowboys.

To cover the sidelined duo's roles, Josh Dugan moves off the wing into the number three jersey while Kurt Capewell lines up as the opposite centre.

Lee returns to fill the vacant flank position after a four-week stint on the sidelines with a fractured shoulder.

Hooker Jayden Brailey (ear) and second-rower Wade Graham (knee) also reclaim their starting spots having overcome injuries.

Nineteen-year-old halfback Kyle Flanagan is on standby to play against Newcastle but is tipped to make his NRL debut.

Though the Sharks' team is depleted and reshuffled, the Knights are also missing key personnel: boom youngster Kalyn Ponga is out with an ankle concern.

Regardless of Ponga's absence, Cronulla playmaker Chad Townsend said the Sharks know they cannot expect an easy win.

Although Cronulla trounced Newcastle earlier this year, the Shire men are on high alert after the Novocastrians convincingly beat Penrith last round.

"Every game is a danger game, to be honest," Townsend told reporters during the week.

"It doesn't matter where you sit in the competition – if you take a team lightly, you're going to get shown up ... You have to come out with your best performance every single week, and it's no different this week.

"The Knights have shown, not only last week but in previous weeks, that they can match it with anyone."

He added: "We want to send off some players that have contributed huge amounts to our club and do it in front of our home fans."

Extra attention will be focused on Cronulla come Sunday following a series of recent controversies surrounding prop Andrew Fifita.

Townsend believes Fifita is primed for a strong display despite the media scrutiny.

"I saw some fire in his eyes [last] weekend [against the Cowboys]," said Townsend.

"When I see that in Andrew, I think he plays his best football... This time of year, that [passion] is what you want from your big players.

"We're looking forward to him backing up this weekend and putting in a good performance."

Meanwhile, mid-season Sharks recruit Aaron Woods – who hasn't played finals football since 2011 – admitted he is excited about playing in a conceivable premiership-winning side.

However, the front-rower stressed there's still plenty of progression left in the Sharks before the playoffs.

"I think probably the biggest thing for us at the moment is being consistent for 80 minutes," Woods said.

"We've had some really good periods of games where we've probably played good for 50 or 60 minutes but let ourselves down in the last 20 or 30.

"People are talking about us but there's a lot that we've got to improve on to be up there with the top four sides – and we're not in the top four yet.

"We've got to win our next two games and hope some results go our way so we can make the top four."

Woods is expected to once again play big minutes in the middle tomorrow, a responsibly he is enjoying.

"It's been good fun. It was a bit of a shock to get those extra minutes in the last two weeks but we've had a few injuries... I'm enjoying it every time I get on the footy field," he said.

"I just can't thank [coach] Shane [Flanagan] enough for giving me a role."

Kick-off between the Sharks and Knights is set for 2pm on Sunday. Gates open at 11:30am, with the Cronulla under-20s to play a curtain-raiser to the main game.

NRL Team List – Round 24
Sharks v Knights
Sunday, August 26
Southern Cross Group Stadium
Kick-off – 2.00pm
1- Valentine Holmes
2- Edrick Lee
3- Josh Dugan
4- Kurt Capewell
5- Sosaia Feki
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
21- Kyle Flanagan

Head-to-head: Played 51; Knights 27 wins, Sharks 23 wins, 1 draw
Previous result: Sharks won 48-10 in round 12
Points per game: Sharks 20.5; Knights 17.6
Points conceded per game: Sharks 17.7; Knights 24.8
Televised: Live on Fox League

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.