It can be complicated if you want it to be, however when it all boils down the equation is a simple one, with the Sharks almost guaranteed a Finals berth with a win over the Storm tomorrow, while a loss is likely to see them eliminated from the 2021 Premiership race.
It is a tough ask against the ladder-leading Storm side, however with Melbourne electing to rest a handful of their stars and the Sharks coming into the game after getting a shot of confidence following back to back wins, and the result is far from a forgone conclusion.
Experienced front rower Aiden Tolman explained his team was aware of the importance of Friday’s match and of the talent in the Storm side, but it was a challenge the Sharks were ready to embrace.
“It’s going to be a tough job. They’re well coached, they’ve got some really good players right across the park, it’s a tough assignment,” Tolman said. “Our focus is on us, we know what Melbourne will throw at us, we’ve done our preparation on them, we know they’re a quality team no matter who’s playing for them.
“But it’s about getting our own game right. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
For large portions of the past two matches, both games being almost sudden death in the race for a Finals berth, the Sharks have played strongly and controlled proceedings, now the test will be to replicate and build on those performances against a Melbourne team which lost to the Eels at their last start after racking up 19 consecutive victories.
In the enviable position of having either first or second on the ladder already secured, the Storm have chosen to rest the likes of Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi and Kenny Bromich from tomorrow’s contest, with Josh Addo-Carr missing due to injury and Jesse Bromich unavailable after being suspended last week.
However on the flip side, they welcome back fro injury the Sharks-bound Dale Finucane and man-mountain Nelson Asofa-Solomona, while with Nicho Hynes, Ryan Papenhyzen, Brandon Smith and Harry Grant in the line up they still boast a team with plenty of class.
As for the Sharks, the only minor alterations to the team which beat Brisbane sees Matt Moylan return to the starting side in place of rookie Luke Metcalf, with young gun Teig Wilton also promoted into the run-on 13 as Siosifa Talakai shifts back to the bench.
While a Sharks win clears up any confusion as to the make up of the top eight, they can drop as far as 10th if they lose and the Raiders and Titans both win.
The Sharks can also stay in eighth place with a loss but would need Canberra to lose and the Titans to either lose, or win but not overturn a 23-point differential gap.
Should they qualify for the Finals, the Sharks would be making their seventh straight Finals appearance, and their ninth in 10 seasons.
In the head to head stats, the Storm hold the advantage, having won 26 of the 41 games played, as compared to 15 by the Sharks.
Melbourne has won the past three encounters, and four of the past five against the Sharks and five of nine since the 2016 Grand Final.
Melbourne has Cameron Munster, Jesse Bromwich, Dale Finucane, Kenny Bromwich and Christian Welch remaining in its squad from the Grand Final, while Cronulla has only Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham, with both unavailable for this weekend’s game.
The two teams last met back in Round 8 at AAMI Park, with Storm winning 40-14.
Future Shark Nicho Hynes finished that game with two try assists, two line break assists, one line break and 125 metres from the fullback position. He is listed to play five eighth in tomorrow’s match.
Another Shark in 2022, Dale Finucane will play his 150th match for Melbourne after joining the club in 2015. Prior to that he played 66 games for the Bulldogs (2012-14).
The Sharks v Storm match is scheduled for a 6.00pm kick off at CBus Super Stadium tomorrow night, with the two 19-man squads listed below.
Fullback for Sharks is number 1 William KennedyFullback for Storm is number 1 Ryan Papenhuyzen
Winger for Sharks is number 2 Sione KatoaWinger for Storm is number 5 Dean Ieremia
Centre for Sharks is number 3 Connor TraceyCentre for Storm is number 3 Marion Seve
Centre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse RamienCentre for Storm is number 4 Justin Olam
Winger for Sharks is number 5 Mawene HirotiWinger for Storm is number 21 Isaac Lumelume
Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Matt MoylanFive-Eighth for Storm is number 6 Nicholas Hynes
Halfback for Sharks is number 7 Braydon TrindallHalfback for Storm is number 7 Jahrome Hughes
Prop for Sharks is number 8 Toby RudolfProp for Storm is number 8 Tui Kamikamica
Hooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke BraileyHooker for Storm is number 9 Brandon Smith
Prop for Sharks is number 10 Aaron WoodsProp for Storm is number 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona
2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora2nd Row for Storm is number 12 Chris Lewis
2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Teig Wilton2nd Row for Storm is number 20 Trent Loiero
Lock for Sharks is number 13 Jack WilliamsLock for Storm is number 13 Dale Finucane
Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Luke MetcalfInterchange for Storm is number 11 Aaron Pene
Interchange for Sharks is number 15 Braden Hamlin-UeleInterchange for Storm is number 14 Harry Grant
Interchange for Sharks is number 16 Aiden TolmanInterchange for Storm is number 15 Tepai Moeroa
Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Siosifa TalakaiInterchange for Storm is number 19 Daniel Atkinson
Reserve for Sharks is number 18 Kai O'DonnellReserve for Storm is number 16 Jordan Grant
- Referee: Grant Atkins
- Touch Judge: Dave Munro
- Touch Judge: Chris Butler
- Senior Review Official: Matt Noyen