The first part of the job was accomplished when the Sharks managed to cement a finals berth two weeks out from the end of the regular season, now the challenge involves proving their worth against a highly ranked opponent, with Saturday night and a match up with the Sydney Roosters offering the perfect opportunity.
The Sharks withstood a spirited Warriors outfit last weekend in qualifying for their sixth straight finals series, however the defending premiers are another level again, with stand-in skipper Shaun Johnson hoping his team can take a positive step forward and head into the big games in a confident frame of mind.
“Anytime you play against quality opposition its always a good challenge,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to build each week and it’s another opportunity.
“They’re a quality side, they’ve got threats right across the park, Sonny Bill being one of them.”
While the match has lost a little of it’s star power with Wade Graham, Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan sidelined for the Sharks, James Tedesco and Boyd Cordner amongst those missing for the Roosters, Sonny Bill Williams in his third game back in the NRL certainly creates plenty of interest.
“I don’t think I’ll be running at him,” Johnson joked. “It’s a challenge I’ll be looking forward to. He brings a lot of excitement to the game.”
As for Sharks prop Royce Hunt, while he will give Williams the respect he deserves, he is set to relish the battle in the middle of the field tomorrow night.
“It’s a privilege to come up against someone with such a high profile, someone who’s done what he’s done in cross codes and in multiple sports,” Hunt said. “But I won’t be holding back.
“It’ll be a good contest, we’ve got some big boys in our pack as well. We’ll give them hell,” Hunt added.
In team news, while the suspended Graham and Townsend are unavailable and Moylan continues to rehab his troublesome hamstring, there were no other injury concerns for the Sharks heading into the round 19 clash.
Coach John Morris has however elected to leave Teig Wilton out of the 17-man squad as selected on Tuesday, with Scott Sorensen to take his place on the interchange bench.
Andrew Fifita will be keen to continue his comeback and to get more minutes on the field after an extended period on the sidelines, while the Johnson- Connor Tracey halves partnership, up against former Shark Kyle Flanagan and likely NSW Origin five eighth Luke Keary, will look to steer the Cronulla side to a victory.
For the Roosters, they have made the decision to rest Tedesco and Sio Siua Taukeiaho, with Cordner ruled out after suffering another head knock in his teams win over the Knights a week ago.
In the 96 matches played between the two clubs, the Sharks have won 34, their opposition 60, with 2 draws, the Roosters historically being one of the Cronulla clubs toughest, their 35% win record second only to the Sea Eagles (27%).
In something of a changing of fortunes, the Roosters will be aiming to win five straight against Sharks for the first time since 2005-07, with the Sharks having won six in a row prior to the current Roosters streak.
The match will be the first since 1978 and the third played at the SCG between these sides, the Roosters having won two of the three, losing the first in 1975 but winning in 1977 and 1978, while the Sharks will play at the hallowed ground for the first time since 1987 (v St George).
However, in a stat in the Sharks favour, Rooster coach Trent Robinson’s win record against Cronulla (6 wins, 7 losses) is his second worst against any team (41% v Storm).
The Sharks have won 10 of 12 against teams below them on the ladder this season but are 0-6 against the teams above them.
In player statistics and milestones, Mitchell Aubusson will play his 303rd NRL game for the Roosters, the most of any player for the club moving ahead of former teammate Anthony Minichiello.
Roosters number seven Flanagan leads the NRL with 174 points this season, while Sione Katoa has 15 tries, second to only David Nofoaluma (17) of the Tigers and Johnson leads the NRL in try assists in 2020 with 22, three ahead of Benji Marshal who is next best.
The Sharks and Roosters match kicks off at 7.30pm, with the two 19-man squads listed below.
For the Sharks, Wilton and Billy Magoulias have been omitted from the originally named 21.
Fullback for Roosters is number 1 Joseph ManuFullback for Sharks is number 1 William Kennedy
Winger for Roosters is number 2 Daniel TupouWinger for Sharks is number 2 Sione Katoa
Centre for Roosters is number 3 Josh MorrisCentre for Sharks is number 3 Josh Dugan
Centre for Roosters is number 4 Mitchell AubussonCentre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse Ramien
Winger for Roosters is number 5 Brett MorrisWinger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
Five-Eighth for Roosters is number 6 Luke KearyFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Connor Tracey
Halfback for Roosters is number 7 Kyle FlanaganHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Shaun Johnson
Prop for Roosters is number 8 Jared Waerea-HargreavesProp for Sharks is number 8 Braden Hamlin-Uele
Hooker for Roosters is number 14 Freddy LussickHooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke Brailey
Prop for Roosters is number 10 Lindsay CollinsProp for Sharks is number 10 Aaron Woods
2nd Row for Roosters is number 12 Sitili Tupouniua2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Roosters is number 15 Angus Crichton2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Siosifa Talakai
Lock for Roosters is number 13 Isaac LiuLock for Sharks is number 13 Toby Rudolf
Interchange for Roosters is number 16 Nat ButcherInterchange for Sharks is number 15 Jack Williams
Interchange for Roosters is number 17 Sonny Bill WilliamsInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Andrew Fifita
Interchange for Roosters is number 18 Poasa Fa'amausiliInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Royce Hunt
Interchange for Roosters is number 19 Drew HutchisonInterchange for Sharks is number 18 Scott Sorensen
- Referee: Ben Cummins
- Touch Judge: Phil Henderson
- Touch Judge: Belinda Sharpe
- Senior Review Official: Steve Chiddy