Despite making the top eight despite the challenges thrown at them during the COVID-impacted 2020 season, the Sharks were constantly reminded of their inability to beat a top eight opponent.
One match where they did have a genuine chance of toppling one of the competition hot shots was round one of the Finals series, coincidently against Sunday’s opposition in the Raiders.
After losing hooker Blayke Brailey for the remainder of the match when holding a handy first half lead, the Sharks couldn’t hold on and were eliminated from the premiership race, however an opportunity to both gain some revenge on the team which knocked them out and to earn the respect of the critics and opposing teams early in 2021, arrives with this weekend’s clash with Canberra at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Sharks skipper Wade Graham will proudly celebrate his 250th NRL game milestone on Sunday but he places more importance on his team building on their round one win with another strong performance against the Raiders.
“It will be a great occasion for me and my family to celebrate and look back on, but more importantly it’s a big game for the team to try and start the season off with a couple of wins,” Graham said.
“(Canberra have) been a really good team the last few years, been in the picture and we know what sort of team they are and we know we’ve got to be at our best if we want to win.”
As for the expected deluge in the lead up to the game, Graham and the Sharks had a sneak preview in playing the Dragons in slippery conditions and was prepared for whatever mother nature delivered on Sunday.
“It is always tough. But you’ve just got to roll the sleeves up and get through the conditions,” he added.
For the game which kicks off at 6.15pm at Netstrata on Sunday, the Sharks have just one forced change to the team which beat the Dragons, that being due to the suspension of Jesse Ramien for a high tackle last week, with Mawene Hiroti to take his place.
The 22-year-old Hiroti will be playing his third top grade game in Cronulla colours and his eighth match in the NRL.
In the head-to-head stats for the 75 games played between the two clubs, the Sharks hold a slight advantage, with 39 wins to 36 for Canberra, with the Raiders taking out the past four encounters.
This will be the second time the teams have played at Kogarah, with Canberra winning the round 20 clash 38-28 last year in a game in which both clubs elected to rest the majority of their line-ups one week out from the Finals.
The Finals match which represented the last meeting saw win 32-20 after the Cronulla side had led 14-6 just minutes before half time.
Giving the Sharks some confidence going into the match would be their win over the Dragons last weekend, a victory that was their first in an opening round match since 2013.
They will now be aiming to win rounds one and two to start a season for the first time since 2008 when the Sharks beat eventual Grand Finalists Manly and Melbourne in consecutive weeks.
Canberra come into the game on the back of a 30-12 victory over the Wests Tigers.
As for Graham, the Sharks captain who debuted at Penrith as a 17-year-old back in round 15 of the 2008 season, plays his 208th game for the Sharks after 42 matches at the Panthers in notching the 250-game milestone,
Graham, who first played at the Sharks in 2011, will be making his 75th appearance as captain of the Cronulla club, while he has scored seven tries against the Raiders, his highest tally against any team.
Tickets are still on sale for the game tomorrow night, with pre-purchasing recommended, while undercover seating still available.
The two 19-man teams, with Andrew Fifita and Braydon Trindall omitted from the originally named Sharks-21, are listed below.
Fullback for Sharks is number 1 William KennedyFullback for Raiders is number 1 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Winger for Sharks is number 2 Sione KatoaWinger for Raiders is number 2 Bailey Simonsson
Centre for Sharks is number 3 Josh DuganCentre for Raiders is number 3 Sebastian Kris
Centre for Sharks is number 4 Mawene HirotiCentre for Raiders is number 4 Curtis Scott
Winger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo MulitaloWinger for Raiders is number 5 Jordan Rapana
Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Matt MoylanFive-Eighth for Raiders is number 6 Jack Wighton
Halfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad TownsendHalfback for Raiders is number 7 George Williams
Prop for Sharks is number 8 Braden Hamlin-UeleProp for Raiders is number 8 Josh Papalii
Hooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke BraileyHooker for Raiders is number 9 Josh Hodgson
Prop for Sharks is number 10 Aaron WoodsProp for Raiders is number 10 Dunamis Lui
2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora2nd Row for Raiders is number 11 Hudson Young
2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham2nd Row for Raiders is number 12 Elliott Whitehead
Lock for Sharks is number 13 Toby RudolfLock for Raiders is number 13 Joseph Tapine
Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Connor TraceyInterchange for Raiders is number 14 Siliva Havili
Interchange for Sharks is number 15 Aiden TolmanInterchange for Raiders is number 15 Ryan Sutton
Interchange for Sharks is number 16 Jack WilliamsInterchange for Raiders is number 16 Iosia Soliola
Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Billy MagouliasInterchange for Raiders is number 17 Ryan James
- Referee: Chris Sutton
- Touch Judge: Matt Noyen
- Touch Judge: Dave Munro
- Senior Review Official: Chris Butler