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Sharks and Warriors do battle with everything to play for
The Cronulla Sharks and the New Zealand Warriors will be fighting for a place in the top eight when they clash on Sunday evening.
Coming off one of their worst performances of the year, the Cronulla Sharks will be desperate to make amends as they look to confirm a place in the finals for the sixth year in a row.
Embarrassed by the Knights 38-10 last Friday to remain winless against top eight teams this season, coach John Morris will be hoping his side can continue an emphatic record over the Warriors having won 11 of their past 14 clashes.
Coming into the contest two wins clear of their opponents, the Sharks will remain in eighth position with a win, while a loss could see the side in danger of missing the play-offs with matches against the Roosters and Raiders still to play over the final fortnight of the regular season.
Losing Wade Graham and Chad Townsend to suspension after the premiership-winning duo accepted early guilty pleas, Shaun Johnson and Connor Tracey will become the seventh combination used in the halves, while Andrew Fifita, Jack Williams and Teig Wilton come into the side as part of a new-look bench.
Needing to win all three of their remaining matches to have any chance of qualifying for the finals, the New Zealand Warriors will be treating Sunday evening as a do-or-die contest.
Fighting back from a 16-0 deficit before going down 24-18 against the Eels last Sunday, coach Todd Payten will be looking for a much-improved performance from his players after the Sharks trounced the Warriors 46-10 earlier in the season.
Sitting in tenth position with a concerning for-and-against differential of -107, a loss would end the side's top eight ambitions, while a win would set up an intriguing final fortnight against the Raiders and Sea Eagles.
Regaining the services of George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro after the Parramatta-contracted pair sat out last week's clash as per the terms of their loan agreement, Isaiah Papali'I will start in the front row for the first time in his career.
Last meeting: Round 10 2020 - Warriors 10 Sharks 46
Who to watch: Returning to the Sharks' ranks after spending the past three weeks on the sidelines with a groin injury, Shaun Johnson will be determined to make a statement against his former club. Making 162 appearances with the Warriors before crossing the Tasman at the start of last season, the 29-year-old playmaker has developed his game management skills in 2020 with 16 forced drop-outs and 20 try-assists - the most in the league. Bagging an 18-point haul with a try and seven goals when the two sides faced off earlier in the year at Gosford, look for Johnson to rise to the occasion and leave his former teammates feeling black, white and blue.
Producing his most consistent season in the NRL under difficult circumstances, Karl Lawton has flown largely under the radar in the Warriors' bid to make the finals. Managing just 27 matches in the top grade prior to this year, the 24-year-old former Gold Coast utility has spent time in the backline and forward pack before settling in the number nine jersey as part of a potent dummy half combination with Wayde Egan. Averaging 30 tackles per game to go along with 21 tackle breaks over the course of the season, the Sharks will need to contain the unfashionable rake as the Warriors fight to keep their top eight dream alive.
The favourite: Bouncing back after a loss every time since the season resumption, the Sharks are expected to extend the Warriors' poor record at Kogarah.
My tip: With a spot in the finals up for grabs, the Sharks should have zero excuses for a poor performance on Sunday night. Sharks by 10.
1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Connor Tracey 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 12. Siosifa Talakai 13. Toby Rudolf 14. Teig Wilton 15. Jack Williams 16. Andrew Fifita 17. Royce Hunt
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. Adam Pompey 3. Hayze Perham 4. Peta Hiku 5. George Jennings 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Chanel Harris-Tavita 8. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 9. Karl Lawton 12. Tohu Harris 10. Isaiah Papali'i 11. Jack Murchie 13. Jazz Tevaga 14. Wayde Egan 15. Adam Blair 16. Daniel Alvaro 17. Lachlan Burr
Referees: Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials: Belinda Sharpe, Dave Munro; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea;