The Sharks will host the South Sydney Rabbitohs this Saturday night in the Shire in a semi-final rematch to open their 2023 season sans star halfback Nicho Hynes.
Hynes has been ruled out with a calf complaint, however, Sharks officials are hopeful the 2022 Dally M Medallist will not be sidelined for an extended period.
The two sides last met in last year’s semi-final where the Rabbitohs came away with a convincing 38-12 win at Allianz Stadium to end the Sharks’ season.
This clash marks the beginning of year two of the Craig Fitzgibbon era after finishing in the top four last season before bowing out in the second week of the postseason.
There has been minimal squad turnover for the Sharks with veteran middles Andrew Fifita and Aiden Tolman and versatile outside backs Lachie Miller and Luke Metcalf the only departees.
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Sāmoan international Oregon Kaufusi is the most established of the new faces with depth pieces Daniel Atkinson and Max Bradbury also added to the squad over the offseason.
William Kennedy will again don the number one jersey with explosive wingers Ronaldo Mulitalo and Sione Katoa flanking him at the back.
Newly resigned duo Jesse Ramien and Siosifa Talakai form a powerful centre-pairing with edge forwards Briton Nikora and Teig Wilton inside them.
Veteran playmaker Matt Moylan lines up at five-eighth with Braydon Trindall his halves partner in place of the injured Hynes.
Fresh off a career year, local junior Blayke Brailey is at hooker alongside props Toby Rudolf and Braden Hamlin-Uele with co-captain Dale Finucane at lock.
Damaging prop Royce Hunt is unavailable due to an elbow injury.
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Co-captain Wade Graham, Cameron McInnes, Oregon Kaufusi and Jack Williams – whose 2022 campaign lasted just six games before being hampered by injury – make up the interchange.
Connor Tracey, Mawene Hiroti, Thomas Hazelton, Jayden Berrell and Niwhai Puru are the five names listed among the reserves.
Kade Dykes – who suffered a season-ending ACL tear during the preseason – and Matt Ikuvalu are the other two players unavailable for selection.
The Rabbitohs, meanwhile, return with 12 of the same 17 players that led them to a semi-final win over the Sharks last season headed by star fullback Latrell Mitchell.
The Rabbitohs are in a similar boat to the Sharks with Mark Nicholls, Kodi Nikorima, and Jaxson Paulo the only players no longer at the club from last season.
The departure of Nicholls coupled with injuries to interchange middles Hame Sele and Siliva Havili will test their forward depth early this season.
The two sides met once last year prior to the finals with Hynes piloting through a golden-point field goal at PointsBet Stadium to earn the Sharks a 21-20 win.
They have been largely matched in recent years with both sides winning five of the past 10 meetings.
Kick-off: Saturday 4 March (7:35pm), PointsBet Stadium
Sharks squad: 1. Kennedy; 2. Katoa; 3. Ramien; 4. Talakai; 5. Mulitalo; 6. Moylan; 7. Trindall; 8. Rudolf; 9. Brailey; 10. Hamlin-Uele; 11. Nikora; 12. Wilton; 13. Finucane (c); 14. McInnes; 15. Graham (c); 16. Kaufusi; 17. Williams; 18. Tracey; 19. Hiroti; 20; Hazelton; 21. Berrell; 22. Puru
Rabbitohs squad: 1. L Mitchell; 2. Johnston; 3. Tass; 4. Graham; 5. Thompson; 6. Walker; 7. Ilias; 8. Tatola; 9. Cook; 10. Burgess; 11. Koloamatangi; 12. Arrow; 13. Murray (c); 14. Taaffe; 15. Chee Kam; 16. Moale; 17. S Mitchell; 18. Cartwright; 19. Kalo Kalo; 20; Lovett; 21. Suluka-Fifita; 22. Karapani
The Sharks, however, have won their last four clashes against South Sydney at PointsBet Stadium and seven of the past eight.
The venue has also proven somewhat of a fortress in recent years with the Sharks having won 13 of their past 16 in the Shire.
South Sydney enter the clash as favourites after winning nine of their final 13 games of 2022 to qualify for a fifth-consecutive preliminary final.
Both sides enter the season with genuine premiership aspirations and will be desperate to hit the ground running and start the season off on the right foot.
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