The Sharks may try to avoid talking about finals with still three games of the regular season remaining, but there is little chance of escaping the outside noise and chatter ahead of what shapes as a season-defining game on Sunday.
As much as they may downplay it, the game at Kogarah’s Jubilee Stadium, on the back of a disappointing performance in Newcastle at their last start and with a committed Warriors outfit coming to town, sees the Sharks premiership chances potentially hinging on this weekend’s result.
The significance of the occasion wasn’t lost on the players who fronted for media at Sharks headquarters on Thursday.
“It’s a must win game for us, semi finals start this week,” prop Aaron Woods said.
“It’s a matter of us or them and we’ve got to go out there, do a job and the result will look after itself,” Ronaldo Mulitalo added.
As for centre Josh Dugan, he was hoping the Sharks could put the Knights loss behind them and to arrive on Sunday ready to tackle what will be formidable challenge against a determined Warriors side.
“We know we weren’t good enough last week, to be honest it was a little bit embarrassing,” Dugan said. “(But) we know if we get a win, we’ll play finals footy and they won’t. That’s our main focus, trying to rectify what happened last week and to come up with a good performance on Sunday.”
The Chad Townsend send-off didn’t help, however the Cronulla team was already struggling to keep pace with Newcastle last Friday night, with Woods unable to put a finger on the Sharks patchy form.
“We’ve been consistently inconsistent, that’s our biggest problem. We win well or we lose bad. This is a massive week for us to get it right,” he said.
While the loss of Townsend is a blow, as is the suspension of skipper Wade Graham, the Sharks do welcome back former Warrior Shaun Johnson after two weeks on the sideline, with international front rower Andrew Fifita also named to return.
Johnson will also captain the Sharks in what represents the first time he has had the 'c' next to his name in an NRL match.
After a strong performance in the Knights loss local product Connor Tracey has earned a spot in the halves where he will partner Johnson, while Siosifa Talakai slots into the back row in place of Graham.
Sione Katoa, the NRL’s second leading try scorer with 14 so far this year, is also back on deck after being unable to play last week due to a chest injury.
Jack Williams and youngster Teig Wilton have been added to the Sharks interchange bench after sitting out the Knights clash.
In relation to the their 19-man squad, the Sharks were granted permission to bring in outside back Mawene Hiroti after Bryson Goodwin was injured at training late in the week, with young half Braydon Trindall also retained on the extended reserves list.
Billy Magoulias and Scott Sorensen were omitted.
In what shapes as a game with significant finals ramifications, a Sharks win will officially end the Warriors season, with a Cronulla victory to also mean the Top 8 is decided for 2020 following the Tigers loss to the Rabbitohs on Thursday night.
A Warriors victory on the other hand would leave them two points behind the Sharks but with a far inferior points differential. They would need the Sharks to lose their final two games (v Roosters and Raiders), and to win their last two matches against Canberra and Manly.
In the head to head statistics, in the 41 matches played the Sharks have claimed the points on 24 occasions, the Warriors 17 and since 2012, Cronulla has won 11 of 14 against the New Zealand team in what represents their best winning percentage against any opponent during this period.
The two teams last met earlier this year in Round 10 in a match played on the Central Coast, with the Sharks winning 46-10, their second biggest victory over the Warriors (45-4 in 2012).
Sione Katoa and Jesse Ramien both scored doubles in the round 10 match.
Sunday will be the first meeting between the teams at Kogarah but as the home team the Sharks have won the past two, and 14 of 20 overall as the hosts.
The Sharks don’t boast a great record at their 2020 home of Kogarah, having only won 15 of 42 matches in their history, but three of these wins have come this year and they are chasing three straight victories at the venue.
This will be just their opponents seventh match at Kogarah, with the Warriors losing five of six played at the venue so far.
The 38-10 loss to Newcastle last Friday night was the Sharks second biggest this season and the ten points scored their lowest since the resumption of the competition in round three.
The Sharks have won nine of 11 against teams below them on the ladder this season but are 0-6 against the teams above them.
In some player stats and milestones, Kiwi Roger Tuivasa-Sheck leads the NRL in run metres this season, while Johnson tops the NRL for try assists.
Johnson, who played 162 matches for the Warriors from 2011 to 2018, holding the club record for most points (917) and most goals (326), has 20 try assists in the current season.
While in relation to the two coaches, the Sharks John Morris and caretaker coach of the Warriors Todd Payten were teammates at Wests Tigers. They played 57 games together between 2007 and 2009.
The Sharks v Warriors match is scheduled for a 6.30pm kick off at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Sunday, with the two 19-man squads listed below.
Fullback for Sharks is number 1 William KennedyFullback for Warriors is number 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Winger for Sharks is number 2 Sione KatoaWinger for Warriors is number 2 Adam Pompey
Centre for Sharks is number 3 Josh DuganCentre for Warriors is number 3 Hayze Perham
Centre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse RamienCentre for Warriors is number 4 Peta Hiku
Winger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo MulitaloWinger for Warriors is number 5 George Jennings
Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Connor TraceyFive-Eighth for Warriors is number 6 Kodi Nikorima
Halfback for Sharks is number 7 Shaun JohnsonHalfback for Warriors is number 7 Chanel Harris-Tavita
Prop for Sharks is number 8 Braden Hamlin-UeleProp for Warriors is number 8 Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Hooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke BraileyHooker for Warriors is number 9 Karl Lawton
Prop for Sharks is number 10 Aaron WoodsProp for Warriors is number 12 Tohu Harris
2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora2nd Row for Warriors is number 10 Isaiah Papali'i
2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Siosifa Talakai2nd Row for Warriors is number 11 Jack Murchie
Lock for Sharks is number 13 Toby RudolfLock for Warriors is number 13 Jazz Tevaga
Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Teig WiltonInterchange for Warriors is number 14 Wayde Egan
Interchange for Sharks is number 15 Jack WilliamsInterchange for Warriors is number 15 Adam Blair
Interchange for Sharks is number 16 Andrew FifitaInterchange for Warriors is number 16 Daniel Alvaro
Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Royce HuntInterchange for Warriors is number 17 Lachlan Burr
- Referee: Matt Cecchin
- Touch Judge: Belinda Sharpe
- Touch Judge: Dave Munro
- Video Referee: Ben Galea
- Senior Review Official: Steve Chiddy