The New Zealand Warriors enter this important Round 16 clash with a number of players forced to back up from international fixtures last weekend. While captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and halfback Shaun Johnson opted against travelling to Denver, Colorado for the Kiwi's Test match with England, a number of key players were involved and will not have had the benefit of a week off coming into a must-win clash with the Sharks at home.
The Kiwi side have put together a set of mixed results on their home turf in 2018, winning four and losing three games and will be keen to notch another one in the win column against a Sharks side which has been boosted by the addition of former State of Origin and Kangaroos prop forward Aaron Woods.
Woods comes into an experienced and high-quality Sharks pack and will be hoping to kick-start his time in the black, white and blue after a torrid but thankfully short spell with the Bulldogs.
The visitors suffered a 20-16 loss at the hands of the Broncos in their last start and will be focussed on turning things around quickly despite a tricky trip across the Tasman.
The Sharks also welcome back a number of players who played international or representative football last weekend, including 31-year-old State of Origin debutant Matt Prior.
2017 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 26 def. New Zealand Warriors 12 at Mt Smart Stadium
2016 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 19 def. New Zealand Warriors 18 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2015 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 def. New Zealand Warriors 14 at Mt Smart Stadium
2015 - New Zealand Warriors 20 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at Remondis Stadium
2014 - New Zealand Warriors 16 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 12 at Mt Smart Stadium
Interestingly, the Warriors have lost their last two home games against the Sharks. Clashes between these two sides have been fairly low-scoring over the last few years and the last two at Mt Smart Stadium have been no different with the Sharks snaring 26-12 and 18-14 wins across the ditch in 2017 and 2015, respectively.
Overall, the Sharks have won their last three games against the Warriors and will be looking to stretch that out again this Friday night. On top of that, the Sharks have won eight of the last 10 meetings between the pair.
|New Zealand Warriors||Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks|
|1||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck||Valentine Holmes|
|2||David Fusitu'a||Sione Katoa|
|3||Anthony Gelling||Jesse Ramien|
|4||Solomone Kata||Ricky Leutele|
|5||Gerard Beale||Edrick Lee|
|6||Blake Green||Matt Moylan|
|7||Shaun Johnson||Chad Townsend|
|8||James Gavet||Andrew Fifita|
|9||Karl Lawton||Jayden Brailey|
|10||Agnatius Paasi||Matt Prior|
|11||Isaiah Papali'i||Kurt Capewell|
|12||Tohu Harris||Scott Sorensen|
|13||Simon Mannering||Paul Gallen|
|14||Sam Cook||Joseph Paulo|
|15||Chris Satae||James Segeyaro|
|16||Bunty Afoa||Aaron Woods|
|17||Jazz Tevaga||Jayson Bukuya|
|18||Blake Ayshford||Aaron Gray|
|21/19||Sam Lisone||Ava Seumanufagai|
|22/20||Albert Vete||Sosaia Feki|
|23/21||Peta Hiku||Braden Uele|
|24/22||Isaac Luke||Kurt Dillon|
|25/23||Ken Maumalo||Kyle Flanagan|
The facts that matter
New Zealand Warriors
While the season as a whole has been far more impressive than many pundits anticipated coming into the campaign, the Warriors have still shown a worrying tendency to drop their bundle in key fixtures, something Stephen Kearney and his team will have at the forefront of their thinking when they tackle a solid Sharks outfit this Friday night.
A pair of impressive victories over the Sea Eagles and Cowboys before the representative break ensured the Warriors would remain in the top four and keep their fate in their own hands over the next few weeks when they face tough clashes against the Panthers, Broncos and Storm in consecutive rounds.
Key players Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Johnson and the irrepressible Tohu Harris chose to remain home and not travel to the United States to play for the New Zealand national side and that may have proven a wise decision after the farcical return trip those chosen undertook after weather interrupted flights.
Doubt over the return of Isaac Luke, Peta Hiku and the impressive Ken Maumalo haunt team selection for the Warriors this week. All three have been named amongst the reserves and could be called into action if required.
In place of Maumalo, Kearney has named David Fusitu'a to return to the NRL while Anthony Gelling slots in at centre for Peta Hiku and Karl Lawton, who has been impressive when called upon, starts at hooker in place of Luke.
With Adam Blair ruled out due to suspension, Simon Mannering shifts to the role of lock forward while Sam Cook and Jazz Tevaga have been added to the interchange bench.
The Sharks head into this week's clash with the Warriors having begun to carve themselves out a place in and around the bottom half of the top eight.
There is now a four-point gap between the Sharks and Broncos who occupy seventh and eighth respectively and the ninth and tenth-placed Raiders and Tigers. It was not so long ago, however, that the Sharks were nipping at the heels of the top four and they'll need to turn around a small but worrying slump in form to get back amongst the best sides in the competition once more.
On the small side, the Sharks forward pack is amongst the hardest working in the competition. Matt Prior, evergreen and playing some of the best footy of his career, was finally rewarded with the call to play Origin football for New South Wales last weekend while the likes of Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and the under-rated Scott Sorensen get through plenty of work.
The addition of Aaron Woods to an already strong pack makes for an intriguing prospect in the Shire. Although Woods copped plenty of criticism during his short stint with the Bulldogs but he was good enough at one point to be a mainstay at New South Wales level and if he can get himself back to that sort of form, he'll prove a handy pick up.
A distinct lack of urgency has hounded the Sharks in their recent losses and the need for cohesion and growth of the partnership between Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend is clear for all to see.
On the team sheet, Aaron Woods comes straight onto the bench, replacing the injured Jack Williams while Scott Sorensen and Kurt Capewell come into the starting side for injured pair Wade Graham and Luke Lewis.
Both sides are comfortably in the top eight at this stage of the season, but need to shake off some poor performances to command more respect across the board.
The Sharks are famously good at reducing games to a grinding arm-wrestle and winning through grit while the Warriors of old have traditionally shied away from those sort of tough contests.
Whether the new look Warriors will be up for the fight is largely contingent on what key playmakers like Tuivasa-Sheck, Johnson and others can produce on the back of a forward-laid platform.
Give me the Warriors by two points on home soil. They've ended plenty of hoodoos this season and could end another on Friday night.
Will the Warriors have enough about them to notch a Friday night victory or could the Sharks gate-crash the party and take two points back across the ditch? Let us know in the comments and poll below.