THE last time the Kiama Knights and Shellharbour City Sharks clashed was on Sunday, May 14 – with the former getting the victory by just six points.
Since then, the two clubs have had very different trajectories.
The Sharks have strung together seven straight wins, including an 82-12 thrashing of the Stingrays in their last match – seeing them move two points clear at the top of the table.
While the Knights have slipped into fourth place on the ladder, thanks to dropping two of the past five matches – including a derby loss to Gerringong last Saturday.
Knights coach Matt O’Brien knows that another loss will more than likely resign to finishing fourth – with his team having the bye in the final round.
“It’s a big finish for the year for us, as we have had our eyes set on a top three spot all season,” O’Brien said.
“As such, this game is a must win for us – in what will be our last home game for the regular season.
“We have dissected the loss to Gerringong and know we need to improve in a couple of areas – primarily on the defensive end.
“We also need to cut out those little errors from our game, because against the top teams you can’t get away with them and as Gerirngong showed last week, they capitalised.”
With that being the case, O’Brien admitted the task doesn’t get any easier this week against the league leaders.
“We firstly need to match the Sharks through the middle of the park, because if we don’t, they can get a role on and lay a platform for their halves Matt Carroll and Brock Skelly,” O’Brien said.
“It’s up to us to dictate where their playmakers Carroll, Skelly, Hans Schuster and Dylan McGregor get the ball – which can help us get on top.
“Then it will come down to individual match-ups all over the park.
“I’m particularity looking forward to the centre match-up between our Ethan Ford and Oliver Powell against their Wade Aitken and Ian Catania.”
Contrastingly, Sharks coach Abed Atallah’s men can all but lock up the minor-premiership with another two points at the weekend.
“We know Kiama will be up and about this week, after last week’s disappointing result against Gerringong,” Atallah said.
“Obviously Kiama will come out and throw everything at us in an attempt to avoid that fourth position.
“Kiama like to play a fast game, with plenty of bodies in motion – which is suits us but we will be worried about how we play and playing to our strengths.”
Despite sitting two points ahead of second and third placed Jamberoo and Gerringong with two rounds remaining, Atallah’s men haven’t even discussed the minor-premiership.
“To be honest with you, we haven’t discussed the minor-premiership and are more concerned with improving every game we play, leading into the finals,” he said.
“At the start of the year, most teams have their eyes on that top three and a double bite of the cherry.
“So if we finish in first and have the week off, so be it, we will play the cards we are dealt – likewise if we don’t.
“The main thing is improving the way we play each week and that continues on Sunday at Kiama.”
Kick-off is at 2.45pm on Sunday at the Kiama Showground.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Jamberoo travel to Flinders to battle Stingrays, Warilla-Lake South host Milton-Ulladulla and Port Kembla welcome Berry-Shoalhaven Heads to Noel Mulligan Oval.
On Saturday, Gerringong entertain Albion Park-Oak Flats, while Nowra-Bomaderry have the bye.
All matches start at 2.45pm.