Numerous storylines surrounded the Sharks v Tigers clash in round 25 of the 2019 season, but the biggest one had to do with the winner progressing to week one of the NRL Finals, while the loser would head home to lick their wounds and to contemplate what might have been.
It could also have been Paul Gallen’s final NRL game, or alternatively the last for Robbie Farah if he in fact managed to take to the field after battling injury in the weeks leading up.
It was also game 150 for Josh Reynolds and a homecoming of sorts for Aaron Woods, but putting all that aside it was about one team claiming the points and turning their attention towards the Finals, with the other getting an early mark on their spring break and a head start on Mad Monday festivities.
The two teams waited until the final week of the season to meet for the first time in 2019, with their last encounter coming in round 14, 2018, in a game won by the Sharks at PointsBet Stadium.
That victory was the fifth in a row by the Sharks over the Tigers, their best winning streak against the joint-venture club, however less than eight points had decided four of those five games.
The Sharks had also won their most recent encounter at the Tigers spiritual home at Leichhardt, a 22-16 triumph in Round 9, 2017.
Last week’s golden point loss by the Sharks, a 15-14 defeat at the hands of the Canberra Raiders, was their fifth of the season by two points or less, with eight of their past 11 games decided by six points or less. Of the other three, two were victories (Parramatta and Souths), one a loss to the Melbourne Storm.
The previous Sunday against the Raiders marked the fifth time the Sharks had lost during the year after scoring more tries than their opponents.
As for the players, as previously mentioned, the game was shaping as the last for either Farah or Gallen, teammates at rep level, fierce adversaries in this Classic Clash.
The pair played 13 Origins for NSW together, winning the series in 2014, as well as side-by-side in six Tests matches for Australia.
Gallen will play his 347th NRL match, equalling Corey Parker for the sixth most of all-time, with Farah having played 302 matches.
Reynolds was to play his 150th NRL game, Josh Morris was looking for his 150th NRL win, while two former Tigers returned, Andrew Fifita who debuted in 2010 and played 39 matches over two seasons for the club, and Woods who first ran out for the Tigers in 2011, before going on to play 146 matches over seven seasons.
This was the first game back at Leichhardt for Woods and only his and second match against the Wests Tigers since departing the club at the end of the 2017 season.
Sharks Coach John Morris was another familiar with the Tigers and Leichhardt Oval, having played three seasons and 72 matches for the club between 2007 and 2009.
In team news, while all the focus had been on Farah and his race to be fit in time for a potential fairy-tale finish to his Leichhardt Oval career, the Sharks struggled throughout the week with a couple of injury issues of their own.
Josh Dugan had been undergoing the concussion protocols in a bid to cleared to play, with Matt Moylan and Shaun Johnson needing to overcome leg problems before taking their places in the Sharks team.
Unfortunately, Moylan lost his race to be fit and was omitted from the Sharks originally named 21-man squad in the 24-hours prior to kick-off, with Dugan and Johnson both retained.
The Sharks and Tigers clash kicked off at 2.00pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon, however this week’s Classic Clash will be available from 6.00pm on Friday, a time coinciding with the scheduled 2020 season Sharks-Tigers round 8 matchup.
The Sharks 19-man squad list, which was trimmed back to a 17-man team one hour prior to kick-off, is listed below.
Classic Clash Team List
Round 25, 2019
Sharks v Tigers
1 Josh Dugan
2 Sosaia Feki
3 Bronson Xerri
4 Josh Morris
5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
6 Shaun Johnson
7 Chad Townsend
8 Aaron Woods
9 Jayden Brailey
10 Matt Prior
11 Briton Nikora
12 Wade Graham
13 Paul Gallen
14 Kurt Capewell
15 Jack Williams
16 Andrew Fifita
17 Braden Hamlin-Uele
18 Billy Magoulias
20 Kyle Flanagan