Beware the wounded Bronco was the message Sharks coach John Morris was set to deliver to his players on the eve of their round 12 clash against Brisbane.
Languishing in 15th position on the NRL ladder with just one win to show for their efforts since the season resumed after the COVID shutdown, the Broncos have been copping criticism from all quarters, from the media, the fans and also from a collection of their former players.
But as Morris explained at his pre-game media conference, there is enough quality in the Brisbane line up for the Sharks to forget recent results and to head north without any risk of complacency.
“Going to Suncorp stadium regardless of how they are going, is always a really tough road trip,” Morris said. “They’ve had the wood on us the last couple of years so we are more than aware of what’s coming.
“Their first half against Melbourne last week I thought was really good. They haven’t had the results, but not through a lack of trying, especially last week, so we’re going to need to be on our game.
“They’re going to be keen to come out in front of their home fans and to put on a good performance,” Morris added.
As for the Sharks, while they head into the contest on the back of five wins in their last six games, it will be a different looking line up taking the field at Suncorp tomorrow night.
Josh Dugan has again failed to overcome his hamstring issue and was taken out of the side after the Captain’s run today, while his centre partner Jesse Ramien suffered a similar injury in the win over the Dragons and will also miss the game.
Both were given every opportunity to prove their fitness for tomorrow night’s match however the pair came up just short, with medical staff confident they will be available for the Sharks round 13 match against the Eels.
Dugan’s replacement will be Siosifa Talakai, the versatile former Rabbitoh having done an outstanding job in a number of positions, including on a handful occasions in the backline this season, while youngster Jackson Ferris comes into the team for what will be his NRL debut.
Recruited from New Zealand as a 16 year-old, the now 21-year-old Ferris has since come through the Sharks system, playing for the Newtown Jets in 2019 before earning this opportunity in the top grade.
In addition, half back Chad Townsend has been ruled out for around a month with a calf strain, local product Connor Tracey named to replace him in the halves.
Another debutant in Braydon Trindall has been added to the interchange bench for what would also represent his first game in the top grade.
Primarily a half back, Trindall also has some experience as a hooker and could be used to give Sharks number nine Blayke Brailey a spell should there be a need.
However, while the backline takes on a different look, the forward pack remains intact, with the game holding extra significance for Aaron Woods who plays his 200th NRL match.
Morris was a senior player at the Wests Tigers when Woods was coming through the ranks, has been aware of the big front rowers’ capabilities for a long time and had nothing but praise for his career to date and his current influence on the Sharks squad.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Woodsy, he’s such a classy character,” Morris said. “He brings excellent leadership qualities to this club, he’s been an NRL captain, played for his country, State of Origin, so the experience he brings is just so valuable to me and now with all the youngsters we have coming through.”
After making his debut for Wests Tigers in round one of the 2011 season, Woods went on to play 146 games for the Tigers, before joining the Bulldogs in 2018 where he represented the club in 14 matches.
Woods came to the Sharks mid-2018 and Friday night’s game will be his 40th for the Cronulla club.
In the head to head statistics, in the 57 matches played between the two clubs, the Broncos hold the advantage having won 37 times as compared to 20 victories by the Sharks.
Since 2017 the Broncos have been somewhat of the Sharks nemesis, Brisbane winning the last six in a row, however the margins have been relatively close, four of those games decided by less than eight points.
Despite their ordinary record at Suncorp against the Broncos, the Sharks have enjoyed some recent success north of the border, winning their past three, and six of the past nine played in Queensland.
Coming into the game the Sharks are ranked second for points and tries scored, with only the Roosters scoring more, while the Broncos are conceding the most points and the most tries, while scoring the second fewest number of tries.
In terms of player stats, Shaun Johnson added to his try assist tally last week in the win over the Dragons, with his season total of 16 leading all players in the NRL, while winger Sione Katoa is the competition’s equal leading try scorer, alongside Maika Sivo of the Eels with 11.
Dugan and Ramien come out of the originally named 21-man squad, Ferris in the centres and Trindall on the bench into the 17, with Bryson Goodwin and Billy Magoulias included on the extended bench.
The Sharks and Broncos 19-man squads are listed below.
Fullback for Broncos is number 1 Darius BoydFullback for Sharks is number 1 William Kennedy
Winger for Broncos is number 2 Richard KennarWinger for Sharks is number 2 Sione Katoa
Centre for Broncos is number 3 Kotoni StaggsCentre for Sharks is number 14 Siosifa Talakai
Centre for Broncos is number 4 Herbie FarnworthCentre for Sharks is number 20 Jackson Ferris
Winger for Broncos is number 5 Xavier CoatesWinger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
Five-Eighth for Broncos is number 6 Anthony MilfordFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Shaun Johnson
Halfback for Broncos is number 7 Tom DeardenHalfback for Sharks is number 19 Braydon Trindall
Prop for Broncos is number 8 Thomas FleglerProp for Sharks is number 8 Braden Hamlin-Uele
Hooker for Broncos is number 9 Jake TurpinHooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke Brailey
Prop for Broncos is number 10 Payne HaasProp for Sharks is number 10 Aaron Woods
2nd Row for Broncos is number 11 Joe Ofahengaue2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Broncos is number 12 Tevita Pangai Junior2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham
Lock for Broncos is number 13 Patrick CarriganLock for Sharks is number 15 Jack Williams
Interchange for Broncos is number 14 Issac LukeInterchange for Sharks is number 7 Connor Tracey
Interchange for Broncos is number 15 Rhys KennedyInterchange for Sharks is number 13 Toby Rudolf
Interchange for Broncos is number 16 Ethan BullemorInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Teig Wilton
Interchange for Broncos is number 17 Ben Te'oInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Royce Hunt