The outside noise regarding the Sharks chances of knocking off the Raiders in Canberra has been deafening.
A lack of success against top eight teams in 2020, a last start defeat when both teams were understrength, coupled with the fact that the Sharks travel into hostile enemy territory to take on a quality opponent for their week one elimination finals clash and most critics, along with almost everybody else outside their inner sanctum, have been vocal in writing off the Cronulla side in the lead up to this weekend’s big game.
However, if the mood and intensity at training, coupled with attitude and demeanor of the players when fronting the media earlier this week was anything go by, the Sharks are quietly confident of pulling off an against the odds victory on Saturday night.
“Whatever has happened up to now doesn’t matter too much to us,” Sharks centre Josh Dugan expressed. “It’s a new season, any form is out the door, it’s about who performs on the night.
“This year has been a rollercoaster, with COVID and with our performances, but we’re here now, that season is gone, it’s a new comp and we’re looking to make a stamp.”
Toby Rudolf, in his first finals series, coming at the end of a stellar rookie season, is never one to shy away from a contest and was ready for whatever Saturday’s game might bring.
“I’m really excited about the challenge. Very excited to get down there and to cause an upset. That’s what I intend to do,” Rudolf said.
While half back Chad Townsend, returning from a three-week stint on the sidelines after being suspended for a shoulder-charge tackle in a recent match against Newcastle, thought the criticism of his team could prove to be a motivating factor.
“It fuels our group,” Townsend said of the detractors. “This week and this finals series is a whole new game.
“It’s faster, it’s very different. It comes down to small moments within the game that you have to win, to competing and to doing whatever you can.
“It’s about us focusing on what we can control and we’re really confident with the team we’ve got this week. We know if we play our best footy we can come away with the win,” Townsend added.
Were they to notch a victory against the Raiders the Sharks would have to turn around a 38-28 loss to the same team just a week ago, albeit from a match featuring two vastly different teams to those who line up this time around.
The Sharks welcome the return of six players who missed the round 20 match back into their starting lineup, although countering that Canberra also have a number of their key personnel returning for the sudden-death final.
Townsend following his three-weeks out is a big addition for the Sharks, with his experience and game management set to be crucial to his team’s chances.
“I want to play my own game, execute the game plan and do by own thing. It’s about simplifying our roles. I just want to play to our strengths,” Townsend said.
Alongside Townsend in the halves for the Sharks will be fellow local junior Connor Tracey, while centres Josh Dugan and Jesse Ramien have both been included after being rested from the match last weekend.
In the forwards, Rudolf is back on deck, as is one of the Sharks best performed and most consistent in 2020 in Siosifa Talakai, with Blayke Brailey also slotting back in at hooker after having last week off to rest up and refresh.
This match will be the seventh finals game between the two teams, the most recent coming in 2016 when the Sharks caused a boil over in beating the Raiders 16-14, Cronulla fighting back from a 12-0 deficit down in Canberra in earning the week off on route to their premiership success.
Overall, the Sharks have won four of the six finals encounters.
See all the ‘Stats that Matter’ in the related document – CLICK HERE – while the two 19-man teams are listed below.
Teig Wilton and Mawene Hiroti have been retained in the Sharks squad on the extended reserves list.
Fullback for Raiders is number 1 Charnze Nicoll-KlokstadFullback for Sharks is number 1 William Kennedy
Winger for Raiders is number 2 Semi ValemeiWinger for Sharks is number 2 Sione Katoa
Centre for Raiders is number 3 Jarrod CrokerCentre for Sharks is number 3 Josh Dugan
Centre for Raiders is number 4 Jordan RapanaCentre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse Ramien
Winger for Raiders is number 5 Nick CotricWinger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
Five-Eighth for Raiders is number 6 Jack WightonFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Connor Tracey
Halfback for Raiders is number 7 George WilliamsHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad Townsend
Prop for Raiders is number 8 Josh PapaliiProp for Sharks is number 8 Braden Hamlin-Uele
Hooker for Raiders is number 9 Tom StarlingHooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke Brailey
Prop for Raiders is number 15 Iosia SoliolaProp for Sharks is number 13 Toby Rudolf
2nd Row for Raiders is number 11 John Bateman2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Raiders is number 12 Elliott Whitehead2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham
Lock for Raiders is number 13 Joseph TapineLock for Sharks is number 14 Siosifa Talakai
Interchange for Raiders is number 10 Dunamis LuiInterchange for Sharks is number 10 Aaron Woods
Interchange for Raiders is number 14 Siliva HaviliInterchange for Sharks is number 15 Scott Sorensen
Interchange for Raiders is number 16 Hudson YoungInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Andrew Fifita
Interchange for Raiders is number 17 Corey Harawira-NaeraInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Jack Williams
- Referee: Grant Atkins
- Touch Judge: Phil Henderson
- Touch Judge: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
- Senior Review Official: Jared Maxwell