It is a team they would ideally have trotted out in week one, however now 20 rounds into the NRL season, against one of the genuine premiership contenders, the Sharks welcome the return of some of their big guns in a match where they definitely need to fire.
Co-captain Wade Graham will play just his fourth game in Sharks colours, Andrew Fifita is back on deck after serving a suspension, while Matt Moylan has overcome a nagging hamstring problem, one that has restricted him to only nine appearances in 2019.
Add that trio to a healthy Shaun Johnson, Aaron Woods and Paul Gallen, others from the senior group to have spent extended periods on the sideline and their return is certainly a boost ahead of a blockbuster clash with the Rabbitohs on Saturday night.
However, despite the coach being able to name what is perhaps his strongest line-up since the start of the year, games aren’t won on paper and the Sharks will need to be at their best against the second-placed Souths side.
“It’s almost the first time we’ve been full strength. I can’t remember a game this year we’ve had everyone available for selection,” Graham said in his mid-week media call.
“It’s not ideal to be in round 20 being able to have your first opportunity to pick a full-strength side. That’s a positive, but you’ve still got to go out there and play well.”
Chad Townsend, one of only four Sharks to have played all 18 games in 2019, backed up Graham’s comments in expressing there was still a job to be done this weekend.
“Having players back in the team doesn’t guarantee you a win. You’ve got to prepare for the game and do a good job,” Townsend said. “It hasn’t been ideal, but we don’t want to make excuses. It’s definitely a boost to have all the boys back but it’s time to go now.”
A narrow win over the Cowboys, their first after five defeats, kept the Sharks in the running for the top eight, although a win over Souths is imperative should they hope to remain in contention.
This week, despite a team bolstered by some big names, the challenge steps up a notch against a Souths side high on confidence.
“(Souths) are going well. Big Sammy (Burgess) is back which is a positive for them, they’re sitting well up the ladder in second and you don’t get that high by fluke. We know what they’re capable of,” Graham warned.
Should he take to the field it would be the first game since round 13 for Burgess.
And Townsend isn’t about to take Saturday night’s opponents lightly either, knowing his team is in for a torrid evening.
“The Bunnies have gone under the radar, sitting in second place and having some guys coming back in the team, some big names. They’ve got a potent attack and for us it’s going to be about defence and it’s going to be a big test for sure,” Townsend added.
In crunching the numbers from previous encounters, the Sharks boast a strong record in matches played between the two teams at Cronulla’s home ground.
In 43 games played in the Shire since 1967 the Sharks have won 30, including five of the past six matches. Overall the head to head is much closer, the Sharks winning 45 times, Souths 39, with three draws.
The game also sees the most experienced coach in NRL history in Wayne Bennett (831 games), face off with rookie John Morris who is just 18 games into his NRL Head coaching career.
Both teams come into the game following last start wins, the Sharks 16-14 victors over the Cowboys, the Rabbitohs scoring in the last play of the game to topple the Dragons.
In team news, youngster Ronaldo Mulitalo takes the place of Sosaia Feki who comes out due to a niggling leg injury.
The Sharks v Souths match is scheduled for a 7.30pm kick off at PointsBet Stadium, with the same two clubs to meet in a Jersey Flegg game as the curtain raiser.
Flegg gets underway at 5.05pm, with gates to PointsBet Stadium open at 5.00pm.
Fullback for Sharks is number 1 Matt MoylanFullback for Rabbitohs is number 1 Adam Doueihi
Winger for Sharks is number 5 Josh MorrisWinger for Rabbitohs is number 2 Dane Gagai
Centre for Sharks is number 3 Bronson XerriCentre for Rabbitohs is number 3 James Roberts
Centre for Sharks is number 4 Josh DuganCentre for Rabbitohs is number 4 Braidon Burns
Winger for Sharks is number 20 Ronaldo MulitaloWinger for Rabbitohs is number 5 Campbell Graham
Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Shaun JohnsonFive-Eighth for Rabbitohs is number 6 Cody Walker
Halfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad TownsendHalfback for Rabbitohs is number 7 Adam Reynolds
Prop for Sharks is number 8 Aaron WoodsProp for Rabbitohs is number 8 Tevita Tatola
Hooker for Sharks is number 9 Jayden BraileyHooker for Rabbitohs is number 9 Damien Cook
Prop for Sharks is number 10 Matt PriorProp for Rabbitohs is number 10 Thomas Burgess
2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora2nd Row for Rabbitohs is number 11 John Sutton
2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham2nd Row for Rabbitohs is number 12 Sam Burgess
Lock for Sharks is number 13 Paul GallenLock for Rabbitohs is number 13 Cameron Murray
Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Kurt CapewellInterchange for Rabbitohs is number 14 Liam Knight
Interchange for Sharks is number 15 Jack WilliamsInterchange for Rabbitohs is number 15 Mark Nicholls
Interchange for Sharks is number 16 Andrew FifitaInterchange for Rabbitohs is number 16 Ethan Lowe
Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Braden Hamlin-UeleInterchange for Rabbitohs is number 17 Kyle Turner
- Referee: Adam Gee
- Referee: Dave Munro
- Touch Judge: Tim Roby
- Touch Judge: Mark Bohan
- Video Referee: Beau Scott
- Senior Review Official: Jared Maxwell