With second spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder on the line, the Sharks head north to face the Cowboys on Friday night with their biggest priority shutting down former team-mate Chad Townsend.
Cronulla’s only premiership-winning halfback has engineered a stunning turnaround in Townsville with the Cowboys now eyeing off a promising finals campaign, but the Round 18 fixture is one that has no doubt been marked in his calendar for a while.
The same goes for his old mates at Cronulla.
“He’s an old teammate so we know what works for him and what doesn’t so we’ll try and contain him as much as we can," Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele told NRL.com after Thursday’s win over Storm.
"I’m sure he’ll be telling them the exact same thing with what we do here and what we do there.
“It’ll be a good match-up, kind of like chess really. He’ll tell them all about our game plan and we’ll try to take him out of the game, knowing the way he plays.”
Running alongside the cool-headed playmaker for four straight seasons at Cronulla, Hamlin-Uele knows first hand the passion and guidance the veteran halfback displays on the field.
“He was a great teammate. He was very vocal, led from the front and always took our losses personally which he didn’t need to. It showed he just cared so much for the black, white and blue jersey and I’m sure he’s doing the same for the Cowboys jersey up there,” the 27-year-old prop said.
“You can see the way he responds when they’re marked up, being as vocal as he can be and always leading from the front.”
Despite being placed on report twice in his first game back, Hamlin-Uele escaped without charge from the match and is fit to return for his second game since Round 6, where he was sidelined with a pectoral injury.
“It’s been a long road back but to return at Shark Park against Melbourne Storm and put on a performance like that with the boys, I was pretty happy,” he said.
“The whole process has been really tough to accept. It wasn’t just the injury itself, injuries happen in footy so it didn’t take me too long to get over that. I just missed out on the winning, the losing and going through everything with the boys: that was the hardest part to get through.
"But the boys didn’t leave me in rehab alone, they kept talking to me and kept me in the loop so I was really grateful for that.”
Match Highlights: Sharks v Storm
With both side's looking for their fifth win in a row, the top four battle is set to be one of the matches of the round and Hamlin-Uele is prepared for a tough match-up against the club he himself debuted for in 2017.
“The Cowboys are playing well, you can tell they’re playing as a team and for each other and it’s good to see the boys from up north doing well,” he said.
“But we had a good win against Melbourne so we’ll focus on that and not look too far into the finals because we’ve still got to play some decent teams like the Cowboys, Panthers and Rabbitohs.
“Fitzy (Sharks coach) nails it on the head when he talks about just taking it week-by-week, we’re just trying to go through the gears to get to the best version of ourselves.”
Match: Cowboys v Sharks
Round 18 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville