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'Friendly banter' to echo from field to loungerooms

While NRL fans are locked out of stadiums indefinitely due to the coronavirus crisis, having no crowds could well add an interesting element on television.

The usual "friendly banter" between rival players, as Shaun Johnson termed it, is set to echo into loungerooms clearer than ever.

"I don't know if it will increase more, but you might hear it a bit more," said the Sharks playmaker, whose team face rivals the Storm on Saturday night at Netstrata Jubilee Oval in Kogarah.

"It's there every week ... it's all part of the game. I guess you'll just have to listen in on that and see if you can pick up on anything."

Cronulla captain Wade Graham isn't sure how the athletes will respond without fans to cheer or antagonise them.

"It might be a bit more relaxed because you've got no spectators getting stuck into you. Who knows?" he said.

"... It could be a lot more business-like, players just going individually against the other team.

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"Or it could turn into a lot more chat [between players] because you're just so into it. It'll be interesting to see."

On the topic of sledging, Graham couldn't resist a cheeky pop at one famously lippy former Storm star: "Will Chambers isn’t here [in the NRL] anymore, so the chat's going to be a lot quieter!"

Sharks No.7 Chad Townsend suggested having crowd noise played over the speakers to add some semblance of normality.

Johnson quickly swatted away that idea, jokingly labelling his halves partner "a weirdo".

Aside from the mics perhaps picking up some intimate exchanges, teams may hear their opponents calling the shots.

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However, Graham doesn't believe there's any need to hastily change the names of set plays or make secret signals.

"Although teams do run similar shapes, I think a lot of the calls would be different and there's a lot of variations," the second-rower said.

"A lot of the time the calls are made [out of earshot]. Say it's a penalty for something and the halfback kicks for touch, he's making the call there behind the line and the [other] team's back 20 metres."

The Sharks are desperate not to start the season 0-2 after a lack of execution cost them dearly against the Rabbitohs.

They had the chance to tie the scores at the death but a pass from Connor Tracey - who performed well out of position in the centres - went forward to Josh Morris and a try was disallowed.

"We made it very hard on ourselves and it is frustrating because it's something we spoke about all pre-season: not beating ourselves," Johnson said.

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"We made too many errors. Still scored the same amount of tries but our discipline let us down. It's a learning curve for us ... it's okay to go through that as long as we don't make the same mistake this weekend."

Johnson's sizzling second-half effort in which he assisted two tries was a shining light for the boys in black, white and blue.

"I was happy with how I felt more than the outcome of setting up those tries," Johnson said. 

"I felt strong, I felt fit ... I didn't get a hit-out in any pre-season games but considering it was my first hit-out it's definitely a good base to build on."

Despite the fact the seats will be empty, Graham said it was "important" for Cronulla to start off in Kogarah with a victory.

Veteran back Josh Dugan is a hope of returning from a knee injury after being named on the extended bench.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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