The casualty list is mounting, with a wealth of experience currently on the sideline, but the news out of the Sharks final training session of the week was positive, with perhaps their most influential two forwards likely to be on deck to face the Panthers tomorrow night.
Andrew Fifita, hampered by a hamstring complaint, and Paul Gallen with a well-documented rib problem, both trained strongly at PointsBet Stadium on Wednesday, with coach John Morris hopeful the pair will be fit and ready to go by kick off time on Thursday.
“(Fifita) got through most of the session and we’re pretty confident he’ll take to the field,” Morris said. “We’ll see how he goes tomorrow and make an educated call in the morning. Fingers crossed he’s out there.”
As for Gallen, who appears to have overcome his injury issue and is set to return for what will be his 330th NRL appearance, making him the 10th most capped player of all time, Morris is also confident he will have the skipper on board for what is a crucial game.
“He’ll probably play with some pain, but he wouldn’t take to the field unless he thought he could be effective,” Morris added.
The two key forwards aside, the Sharks will run out the same team which went down to the Roosters last Saturday night.
In the game until the final seconds of the first half, a trick play from five eighth Luke Keary, with help from centre Latrell Mitchell, tipped the scales in the Roosters favour as the Sharks failed to recover in the second period.
As for the Panthers, they too come into the game desperate for a result after dropping the points in a loss to the Titans last week.
However, despite the fact both teams are searching for their best form, if recent meetings are anything to go by tomorrow night gives all the indications of another closely fought contest.
In their favour, the Sharks have a strong recent record in games against the Panthers, having won the past six, and 11 of the 13 matches dating back to 2011.
They have also won the last four at PointsBet Stadium, while tomorrow night the Sharks are aiming for a seventh straight win over Penrith and in showing how evenly matched these teams are, eight of the past 12 encounters have been decided by eight points or less, the last three by less than five.
In their most recent meeting, it was also a game that went down to the final siren, a late Chad Townsend field goal seeing the Sharks escape with a 21-20 victory in the 2018 NRL Finals series after at one point leading 18-0,.
“We played them three times last year and they all went down to the wire. Both teams want to get these two points but we’ve just got to make sure we’re three from six, not two from six,” Morris said.
Probably explaining the slow starts in 2019 from both clubs, the Panthers and Sharks have the worst completion rates in the NRL, with both Morris and his counterpart at the Panthers Ivan Cleary likely to be expressing a similar message before the game, that being to control possession and to limit their errors.
With Fifita and Gallen remaining in the selected Sharks side, Kyle Flanagan and Aaron Gray are the players omitted from the 21-man squad as named on Tuesday. Will Kennedy as a standby for the outside backs and Braden Hamlin-Uele for the forwards, remain on the extended reserves list.
The game against the Panthers kicks off at 7.50pm at PointsBet Stadium, with plenty of seats still available.
A Jersey Flegg match between the ladder leading Sharks against the second placed Panthers will be the curtain-raiser, kicking off at 5.20pm.
NRL Team List – Round 6
Sharks v Panthers
Thursday, April 18
Kick-off – 7.50pm
1. Josh Dugan
2. Sosaia Feki
3. Bronson Xerri
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. Jack Williams
17. Scott Sorenson
19. Will Kennedy
20. Braden Hamlin-Uele