A quick glance at the NRL ladder is all it takes to show how crucial the Sharks game against the Warriors is tomorrow.
A loss to the Sea Eagles last week saw the Sharks slip back into a log jam with a handful of teams now effectively fighting for two Finals places, making a win over a rejuvenated Warriors outfit a must should the Cronulla side hope to qualify in the top eight and take part in the big end of season matches.
A Tom Trobjovic inspired Manly side put the Sharks to the sword on Monday night, however they have regrouped, assessed the situation and as explained by front rower Aiden Tolman, now realise how important the next five weeks are, starting with the Warriors clash on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re in a dog fight for the top eight, with five or six teams. It’s a good position for rugby league fans and for the NRL as well,” Tolman began. “We play a couple of teams around the same points as us, if we win all our games we’ll be in it. That’s our goal, starting with the Warriors this week.
“We believe we’ve got five wins left in us before finals, but the old cliche, one week at a time. We know the personnel we’ve got and the job we can do, we’ve just got to get it done and deliver it now. It’s up to us to get the job done,” Tolman added.
With the anomaly that is the NRL draw, the Sharks played the Warriors just a month ago and on that occasion, the Sharks managed a gritty 20-12 victory.
However in a short space of time, a few things have changed, with players from both teams missing, a few from the Warriors returning, while most significantly the Cronulla halves pairing has taken on a different look with the season-ending injury to Shaun Johnson.
Undeterred, Tolman has confidence in his young teammates and in the ability of his team to claim the important two points.
“The young guys bring an enthusiasm and a keenness to play the game,” he said. “Nothing for us changes too much, they’ve got some big in’s and a few outs, but its more about us and the style of footy we know we can play.”
While the Sharks will again field the halves partnership of Braydon Trindall and Connor Tracey, helping their cause will be the return of Jesse Ramien after the experienced centre missed the Manly match due to illness, in the only significant change their line-up.
Coach Josh Hannay has shifted Toby Rudolf into the front row, retained Jack Williams in the starting side but moved him to lock, allowing Siosifa Talakai to go back to his preferred position in the second row. Tolman has been listed to start the game from the interchange bench but is sure to see plenty of game time.
Defence is always vital in NRL matches, however seemingly more so for the Sharks when they face the Warrirors, with Cronulla teams keeping the New Zealand club to 20 points or less in the past 16 meetings.
Most recently, that stat was the key to their success, the Sharks winning 20-12 in the round 17 match up. The Sharks have beaten the Warriors in their last four encounters and eight times in the last nine matches.
Overall, in 43 games played between the two clubs, the Sharks have registered 26 wins, to 17 from the Warriors.
The Sharks come into the match on the back of the Manly defeat, while the Warriors gave themselves a shot of confidence in breaking a six-match losing streak with their two-point win over the Wests Tigers.
This is the first game played between these teams in Queensland.
And in stressing the importance of the Sharks getting off to a fast start, they have won eight of 10 matches when leading at half-time, but in the other nine games played this year are yet to win when behind or level at the break.
In relation to the player milestones, Andrew Fifita will surpass former Sharks captain David Hatch and move into outright 10th for most first grade games for the Cronulla Club (188), while Ronaldo Mulitalo will be looking to continue his success against the Warriors, the young winger having scored four tries in five matches against the Kiwi club.
Despite the loss on Monday night Will Kennedy was again amongst his teams’ best, the fullback notching the third try-scoring double of his 38-game NRL career.
Kennedy sits equal with Connor Tracey for most tries for the Sharks this season, the pair having scored 11 four-pointers, while he also has 10 try assists and leads the team in line break assists.
The Sharks and Warriors match is scheduled for a 3.00pm kick off at CBus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast, with the two 19-man squads listed below. Billy Magoulias and Matt Moylan drop off the originally selected Sharks 21-man squad, with Jonaiah Lualua and Luke Metcalf retained on the extended reserves list.
Fullback for Warriors is number 1 Reece WalshFullback for Sharks is number 1 William Kennedy
Winger for Warriors is number 2 Dallin Watene-ZelezniakWinger for Sharks is number 2 Sione Katoa
Centre for Warriors is number 3 Peta HikuCentre for Sharks is number 3 Will Chambers
Centre for Warriors is number 4 Viliami VaileaCentre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse Ramien
Winger for Warriors is number 5 Marcelo MontoyaWinger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
Five-Eighth for Warriors is number 6 Chanel Harris-TavitaFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Connor Tracey
Halfback for Warriors is number 7 Sean O'SullivanHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Braydon Trindall
Prop for Warriors is number 8 Addin Fonua-BlakeProp for Sharks is number 8 Toby Rudolf
Hooker for Warriors is number 9 Jazz TevagaHooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke Brailey
Prop for Warriors is number 10 Matthew LodgeProp for Sharks is number 10 Aaron Woods
2nd Row for Warriors is number 11 Euan Aitken2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Warriors is number 12 Josh Curran2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Siosifa Talakai
Lock for Warriors is number 13 Bayley SironenLock for Sharks is number 13 Jack Williams
Interchange for Warriors is number 14 Kodi NikorimaInterchange for Sharks is number 14 Braden Hamlin-Uele
Interchange for Warriors is number 15 Bunty AfoaInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Aiden Tolman
Interchange for Warriors is number 16 Kane EvansInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Andrew Fifita
Interchange for Warriors is number 17 Eliesa KatoaInterchange for Sharks is number 19 Luke Metcalf
Reserve for Warriors is number 20 Edward KosiReserve for Sharks is number 20 Billy Magoulias
- Referee: Matt Cecchin
- Touch Judge: Darian Furner
- Touch Judge: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
- Senior Review Official: Alan Shortall