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Why PNG clash is more than a trial for Sharks rookies

Sharks coach John Morris has told the youngsters in his squad for Saturday’s historic trial against Canterbury in Papua New Guinea that some of them may never play in front of as big a crowd again.

With the 15,000-capacity National Football Stadium expected to be packed for the first clash between two NRL teams in league-mad Port Moresby, it will be the largest crowd most of the Cronulla rookies have played before and Morris is set to cut his squad after the match.

While the likes of Wade Graham, Shaun Johnson, Chad Townsend, Josh Morris, Andrew Fifita, Matt Moylan, Jesse Ramien and Briton Nikora have either been rested, are injured or on All Stars duty, the match is an opportunity for some of the club’s fringe players to push their claims.

“Connor Tracey is one or two good pre-season games away from grabbing a round one jersey, so is Toby Rudolph and Billy Magoulias,” Morris said.

“You’ve also got guys like Scott Sorenson, Sione Katoa, Will Kennedy and Cameron King.

“I said to them today that they have all got reasons to really rip in and make the most of this opportunity because next week we are starting to trim our squad down.”

Morris: 'Josh will be here in 2020'

As the most experienced member of the Cronulla line-up to play the Bulldogs with 25 NRL appearances, Sorensen will captain the team.  

Some of the younger players are on train-and-trial contracts and Morris will need to make decisions about their future before the start of the season.

“Some of these kids will never play at this level again. This is the biggest game they'll play for some of them because I have left a fair few at home,” Morris said.

“They may not get this opportunity again. With a 10,000-to-15,000 crowd there to cheer them on, it is going to be more than a trial. It is an opportunity to come and really put your best foot forward in a big-game atmosphere.

“That’s why this trip is so important, because I like to see how they are off the field too. I am pretty big on the character over talent thing and they have just passed with flying colours. We were just commenting on how good it is that none of them are complaining.”

Since arriving in Port Moresby on Thursday, the Cronulla and Canterbury players have visited schools, attended an autograph session, visited the children’s ward of the local hospital and been to the Bomana War Cemetery where more than 3,000 Australians are buried.

The PNG match is supported by the Federal Government's PacificAus Sports program, and players have been  promoting Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) programs targeting social inclusion, participation, equality and health and wellbeing.

“We have taken them away from their comfort zone into a foreign country and what I get back out of that from coaching is just massive, giving back that gratitude and that selflessness. The boys are just in awe of coming up here and seeing the kids chase the bus down the street and the way they have welcomed us,” Morris said.

“It puts it all back into perspective when we go home and we have got the best of everything in Sydney, so culturally for me that is perfect for what I am trying to build at the Sharks.”