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Craig Fitzgibbon's top-four Sharks have a tumultuous month ahead of them on paper, facing the three sides above them on the ladder with the Panthers, Storm and Cowboys all coming up.

The first of those challenges kicks off on Thursday night with the premiership contenders taking on a Melbourne side still smarting from their loss to Manly.

Even with the likes of Cameron Munster (Origin), Harry Grant (Origin) and Felise Kaufusi (personal) joining Xavier Coates, Reimis Smith, Christian Welch and George Jennings (all injured) on the unavailable list this week, Fitzgibbon was under no illusions about the challenge that lies ahead for his side.

“It is a big challenge, they’re missing a couple of players but they’re still not all that under-strength,” Fitzgibbon told the media on Wednesday.

“They’re a club that’s built on a system where if anyone leaves, someone else comes in and fills that role and historically speaking they haven’t lost too many back-to-back.

Sharks v Storm: Round 17

“We’ve been working really hard on lots of parts of our game and we’ve had some decent wins in that time.

"But it’s just an assumption that ladder position makes an NRL game easy. We’ve had to fight for those victories and teams have played well against us.

"We’ve got the right to be in the position we’re in but I have no illusions as to what’s coming up.”

After featuring as 18th Man for the Blues for the first two Origin games, Nicho Hynes' availability loomed as a huge boost but the star playmaker has been ruled out after returning a positive COVID test on Wednesday.

Nicho Hynes will miss the Storm clash after testing positive to COVID.
Nicho Hynes will miss the Storm clash after testing positive to COVID.

Hynes has been a leading figure in Cronulla's climb to fourth spot after 16 rounds, with Fitzgibbon heaping praise on the former Storm man.

“He’s incredibly proud to be part of the NSW squad — that’s an incredible achievement for a guy that‘s only played 50 games and is in his first season as a halfback,” Fitzgibbon said.

“But on top of that he knows that the reason he got to that squad was because of the footy that he’s played for the Sharks."

The Sharks suffered a 34-18 defeat at the hands of Melbourne in round six, with Fitzgibbon taking “plenty of lessons” out of that clash at AAMI Park.

“That was a very important contest, I really enjoyed the first half, I thought we played really strong," he said.

“Some periods of that game we played physical; we played well but ultimately, against that quality of opponent, you need to stay at it and play for longer.

"We understood that that’s not going to be enough to beat those top teams so plenty of lessons came out of that."

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