Don’t be fooled by the fact the Sharks have won their past six matches in the national capital as by any measure, playing the Raiders in Canberra remains a formidable challenge.
Yes, it has been a happy hunting ground for the Sharks in recent years, however coach John Morris, despite the fact he is starting to welcome some of his established stars back into the line-up, realises that Thursday night will be no easy task for his team.
“It’s a big game, both sides are on the cusp of the top four and it’s a bit of a finals type build up for me,” Morris said. “Our guys are ready for a big game and no doubt they are as well.
“Going into a week off, we’ve past that half way point in the year, so it’s a crucial game for us given where Canberra are on the table.”
He was however quick to dismiss the recent winning streak at GIO Stadium as having any bearing on tomorrow night’s clash, but at the same time looked forward to both the road trip south and to the excitement surrounding what is an important game for both clubs.
“People said to me we hadn’t won at WIN Stadium in a long time, but we went down there and beat the Dragons,” Morris said.
“We like getting away as a group, we like travelling together, it’s a good place to go and they welcome you with the Viking clap. It’s a good atmosphere and a good place to play.”
Helping the Sharks cause in their quest to push their winning streak out to seven, is the inclusion of Wade Graham for his second game following nine months on the sideline, as well as the potential return of half back Shaun Johnson who has been missing with a hamstring complaint since round seven .
Now slowly getting key members of the squad back on the field, Morris pointed out that there was still plenty of improvement in his team despite some positive results over the last few months.
“It was good to get Wade back, which added another dynamic, but there’s parts of our game we’ve got to get better at. We’ve been a pretty ordinary first half team up until last week, a lot of our wins we’ve been behind at half time, so we’ve got to fix that up and I wasn’t happy we clocked off towards the end last week,” the coach explained.
“So there are a lot of parts we’ve got to fix but they are a hungry group who always want to get better.”
As for Johnson, the Kiwi international travelled to Canberra with the Sharks squad, as did youngster Kyle Flanagan, with a decision as to who will play in the halves against the Raiders to be deferred until game day.
Otherwise the Sharks are as named, with youngster Blayke Brailey coming into the team at number nine in place of his injured brother Jayden.
In the head to head statistics, the Sharks have won six of the past eight games and 12 of the last 15 against the Raiders in Canberra.
As for the Sharks, they will be looking to win three straight matches for the first time in 2019 and also their third road game in succession after beating the Titans and Dragons in their two most recent games away from home.
Canberra on the other hand has conceded the second fewest points this season and have the second-best completion rate in the NRL, showing why they will be a difficult team to beat in the round 14 match.
The Sharks v Canberra game is scheduled for a 7.50pm kick-off at GIO Stadium, with the Cronulla 19-man squad listed below.
Scott Sorensen and Billy Magoulias come out of the originally named 21, with Johnson and Aaron Gray retained in the extended 19-man team.
NRL Team List – Round 14
Sharks v Raiders
Thursday, June 13
Kick-off – 7.50pm
1. Matt Moylan
2. Sosaia Feki
3. Bronson Xerri
4. Josh Morris
5. Josh Dugan
6. Kyle Flanagan
7. Chad Townsend
8. Andrew Fifita
9. Blayke Brailey
10. Matt Prior
11. Briton Nikora
12. Kurt Capewell
13. Paul Gallen (c)
14. Wade Graham
15. Jayson Bukuya
16. Jack Williams
17. Braden Hamlin-Uele
18. Aaron Gray
21. Shaun Johnson