With the Storm sitting six points clear at the top of the NRL ladder, on a night where the game celebrates their skipper’s remarkable individual achievement, and there is no secret the Sharks face a formidable challenge at AAMI Park on Saturday evening.
A night where Cameron Smith will play his 400th NRL game, against a Sharks side missing both co-captains in Paul Gallen and Wade Graham, and on the surface it would appear to be a road trip coach John Morris and his team should be dreading.
However, if listening to Morris at his pre-game press conference and sensing the mood in and around the Sharks the camp, the game against Melbourne this weekend and the occasion which surrounds it, is something the Sharks are more than happy to be a part of.
“It’s an honour for us to go down and play in this game, great to be a part of it,” Morris said. “It’s the game we need on the back of our last three weeks. We’ve been heavy favourites and we haven’t handled that too well.”
The Cronulla side heads into the game as huge underdogs, but the past three games have been addressed and the team travels south ready to show exactly what they are capable of.
“Certainly, parts of our game haven’t been at the standard they need to be for us to win.
“But you’ve got to take some positives, we just can’t look at all the negatives. Frustratingly we’ve lost three games in a row, but we’ve scored more tries than our opposition,” Morris said.
As for a formula heading for Melbourne and coming away with the points, in Morris’s estimation it was a simple one.
“You’ve got to give yourself a chance. You can’t go down there and beat yourself, you’ve got to compete well, complete well, defend well and if you do that you give yourself every chance to beat them and to win the game. Just as we did in round eight.”
The victory by the Sharks in early May has been one of only two losses suffered by the Storm in 2019, the other being a golden point loss, although recent history in games between the two clubs gives Morris and his squad some level of confidence.
Its probably a stretch to say they are a bogey side for the Storm, but the Sharks have won five of their past seven matches against Melbourne, including the 2016 Grand Final and even in the southern capital boast a recent run of success, winning at AAMI Park in two of the previous three, included amongst those victories a round 6 triumph in 2017 and a round 22 win last year.
In Sharks team news, while Gallen and Graham are missing, replaced by Jack Williams and Kurt Capewell respectively, two extremely capable deputies, the return of Andrew Fifita is a bonus and with the ‘C’ for captain next to his name, the international front rower will be up to spoil the Cameron Smith ‘party’ with an inspirational performance on Saturday night.
Matt Moylan is also a late withdrawal with a hamstring issue, with the two Josh’s in Morris and Dugan in line to take his place at the back. Aaron Gray comes into the side either on the wing or at centre.
The coach still has decisions to make as to the make-up of his bench, although he will be hoping to get energy and impact from Braden Hamlin-Uele and Aaron Woods when the two big props are injected into the game.
Kyle Flanagan, Billy Magoulias and Blayke Brailey have all travelled to Melbourne with the team and are in line to fill the final bench spot.
The Sharks and Storm are scheduled for a 7.35pm kick off at AAMI Park on Saturday night.