A Sharks side with a new coach, a couple of imports with international experience, a crop of emerging stars and the nucleus of the team which claimed the 2016 title and has remained a contender in the two years since, kicks off a new season when they tackle the Knights in Newcastle tomorrow night.
Head Coach John Morris leads a Sharks team with lofty goals and expectations in 2019, but first things first is a clash with a Newcastle squad tipped to be the big improvers in this year’s NRL competition.
The Sharks easily accounted for the Knights in a trial played in Maitland just two weeks ago, but Morris and his team realise it will be a different ball game this time around.
“I talked to them about not being complacent. I know we’re going to run into a different Knights team,” Morris said. “But we’ve come prepared, we’ll focus on what we can do well and what we can control and hopefully we get a positive result.”
Morris returns to the ground where he made his NRL debut while playing for the Knights some 18 years ago and although the nerves will be inevitable, is confident his team has prepared well and will be ready to go come kick off at 6.00pm.
“It’s going to be an anxious moment for me, the nerves will always be there. But it’s something I’m looking forward to and going back to the ground, where I debuted for the opposite side as a 20-year-old, is ironic,” he said.
“We’ve just got to trust what we’ve done, stick to what we’ve done at training and we’ll be OK.”
While Morris has handed NRL debuts to exciting youngsters Blayke Brailey and Briton Nikora, he also has a couple of aces up his sleeve in new recruits Shaun Johnson and Josh Morris.
Both have experience in the international arena, with Johnson a former Golden Boot winner as the best player in the game back in 2014 and Morris a proven performer at Origin and international level.
Morris has slipped seamlessly into the Sharks way of doing things and coach Morris has already been impressed with what Johnson has brought to the club and is keen to see what he can produce tomorrow evening.
“His leadership and experience has been invaluable at training,” Morris said of Johnson. “(I want him to) Just to get into the game and get his hands on the ball, take the line on and guide the boys around the park.”
Johnson joins the Sharks after eight seasons and 162 matches for the Warriors, a career which has featured 63 tries and 153 try assists, more than 100 more than the next best player at the New Zealand club since 2011.
Josh Morris joins the Sharks after 10 seasons and 217 matches for the Bulldogs.
Although the Sharks go into the contest on the back of eight straight victories over the Newcastle club, they have struggled in round one matches in recent seasons, winning just one of their last nine dating back to 2010.
The Sharks and Knights have also met twice before in round one, with the Knights winning on both occasions.
On the plus side, Cronulla was last beaten by the Knights back in 2014, with Newcastle failing to score over 18 points in their past six matches against the Sharks.
Even in hostile enemy territory at McDonald Jones Stadium the Sharks have won the past four matches, two of those games decided by 38 points or more, with the 62-0 victory in 2016 the equal largest winning margin in the club’s history.
While the Sharks have a similar look to the team they trotted out in 2018, Johnson, Morris, Nikora and the younger Brailey the exceptions, the Knights have a number of notable additions, James Gavet, Tim Glasby, Hymel Hunt, David Klemmer and Kurt Mann, along with two former Sharks in Edrick Lee and Jesse Ramien, new to their squad this season.
The Sharks trained strongly at Shark Park earlier today in completing their preparations for the match that kicks off at 6.00pm.
The 19-man squad is listed below, with young gun Bronson Xerri and forward Braden Hamlin-Uele omitted from the 21 selected on Tuesday. Scott Sorensen and Kyle Flanagan are the shadow players.
The Sharks 21-man squad is listed below.
1. Matt Moylan
2. Sosaia Feki
3. Josh Dugan
4. Josh Morris
5. Sione Katoa
6. Shaun Johnson
7. Chad Townsend
8. Andrew Fifita
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Matt Prior
11. Briton Nikora
12. Kurt Capewell
13. Paul Gallen (c)
14. Blayke Brailey
15. Jayson Bukuya
16. Aaron Woods
17. Jack Williams
18. Scott Sorenson
19. Kyle Flanagan