The Cronulla Sharks are out to knock the Sydney Roosters off their perch when they meet the minor premiers in a blockbuster qualifying final at Allianz Stadium tomorrow night.
It's a high-stakes challenge for the Sharks, with a ticket straight through to the preliminary final in a fortnight's time up for grabs. The loser of the match will play sudden-death football next week.
Although the Roosters finished the regular season first and Cronulla fourth, it was only points differential that separated them. Statistically speaking, the teams were also ranked among the best defensive outfits in the competition after 25 rounds.
The Sharks perhaps enter the game with more momentum than the Tricolours on the back of four consecutive wins. The Roosters flogged Parramatta last start to claim the JJ Giltinan Shield but had suffered back-to-back losses beforehand.
Cronulla has played the Roosters only once this season, the Bondi club winning a scrappy affair 28-10 in round five.
There are a few team changes for Cronulla. Kurt Capewell drops out with a lower-body injury, while Ava Seumanufagai has been culled from the 21-man squad named earlier this week.
Gun rookie centre Jesse Ramien remains in the mix to take on the Roosters. Coach Shane Flanagan knows he faces a hard call on the final make-up of his backline, with an abundance of classy backs to choose from.
"It's going to be a tough decision to leave a few out. It's a good decision to have to make at this time of year," Flanagan said.
"[Ramien] trained well today, so as I said it's just a decision I've got to make over the next 24 hours on which way I run and how I take my bench forward.
"In the back of my mind I've sort of made my decision. I know what's best for the team, or hopefully I do, and consulting with the coaching staff and the players we'll come up with the right decision hopefully."
Meanwhile, Sharks five-eighth Matt Moylan said the Shire men aren't carrying any demons from their defeat to the Roosters back in April.
"I think both sides will be a lot different from then. That was early on in the piece. I'd say both sides weren't playing the type of footy that we are now," said Moylan.
"We know we're in for a big game. It's always a tough and physical encounter when you play the Roosters and they're coming off the back of a pretty good win last week."
After Cronulla endured a sluggish opening to the season, during which Moylan's individual game stalled, the No.6 believes Cronulla is peaking across the park at precisely the right moment.
"We always thought our best footy was going to be towards the back end of the season, and hopefully we can keep improving going into this week," the NSW and Australia representative said.
Star Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk looms as the key player for the home side. Cronk earlier in the week conceded he expects to be "smacked" by Sharks back-rower Wade Graham in an attempt to unsettle his composure.
However, Graham believes it'll be a team effort to limit the playmaker's impact.
"We need to be on our game to handle him and we'll be doing our best to get at him... We've had a bit of history, me and Cooper, which is good," said Graham.
"He'll be doing his best to pull my pants down too with a bit of shape, so I'll have to be on my game. I won't really treat it any different to any other game."
Sydney lock Victor Radley will be another danger for the Sharks given his growing reputation as a sledgehammer in defence.
Graham was full of praise for the 20-year-old, joking that he won't dish Radley the same treatment he gives Cronk because "he can thump back".
"I've never met Victor but I really like the way he plays. He's had a great season. He looks like a real good character, a knockabout guy, and he certainly goes a hundred miles an hour on the field," said Graham.
"[He's] just another one of the threats that the Roosters have – there's plenty of them out there."
It may well be the forwards who dictate the outcome of the match, but the battle of Roosters No.1 James Tedesco and Sharks fullback Valentine Holmes will be worth the price of admission alone.
"They're two world class fullbacks, very exciting. They're the type of guys who bring people through the stadium," Graham said of the duo.
"'Teddy' is awesome at breaking tackles and making blokes miss and getting into the backfield. And we all know what 'Val' can do if he's got a little bit of space around him."
Moylan added: "I think [Holmes'] form probably from around Origin time has been unreal. It's something that's gotten us into the position we're in now. Hopefully it keeps up and he can keep scoring tries."
Allianz Stadium is expected to be a sea of black, white and blue, with reports tipping Sharks fans to dwarf the 'Chook Pen'.
Graham believes the support could make all the difference.
"We're looking forward to it. Allianz is a good venue for us, we've been there in the past. The last few years we've played there our fans travelled.
"It'll be a big crowd and an exciting game. Hopefully we can go out there and both teams play well and really deliver for the fans."
Kick-off tomorrow night is scheduled for 7:40pm. The Sharks will be running buses from Southern Cross Group Stadium to Allianz Stadium. The game will also be televised on Channel Nine and Fox League.
The Sharks 19-man squad is listed below, with the final 17 to be announced
NRL Team List – Qualifying Final
Sharks v Roosters
Saturday, September 8
Kick-off – 7.50pm
1- Valentine Holmes
2- Sosaia Feki
3- Josh Dugan
4- Ricky Leutele
5- Edrick Lee
6- Matt Moylan
7- Chad Townsend
8- Andrew Fifita
9- Jayden Brailey
10- Matt Prior
11- Luke Lewis
12- Wade Graham
13- Paul Gallen
15- James Segeyaro
16- Aaron Woods
17- Jayson Bukuya
18- Scott Sorenson
20- Joseph Paulo
21- Jesse Ramien
Head-to-head in NRL era: Played 39; Roosters 22 wins, Sharks 16 wins, 1 draw
Previous result: Roosters won 28-10 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round 5
Points per game (regular season): Roosters 22.6 (4th); Sharks 21.6 (6th)
Points conceded per game (regular season): Roosters 15 (1st); Sharks 17.6 (3rd)
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
(Stats via NRL.com)