When you have played 18 seasons in the NRL you tend to be able to spot a danger game a mile away.
And for Paul Gallen and Cronulla, when Newcastle’s team bus arrives at Shark Park on Sunday it may as well be accompanied by red and blue warning sirens.
On face value, if Cronulla were going to pick an opponent to continue their charge for a top four finish against it would be the Knights.
The Sharks host Newcastle having won their last seven straight matches against the Novocastrians at an average winning margin of 34-12.
Cronulla need to win their final two games of the season, against Newcastle and Canterbury, and hope St George Illawarra and Penrith slip up to earn an all-important top four place.
But, as Gallen points out, this isn’t the same Newcastle of recent years.
The Knights have been much-improved in 2018, enough to break a streak of three consecutive last-placed finishes.
If it weren’t for a crippling injury toll, including the 10-week absence of marquee signing Mitchell Pearce to a torn pectoral, Newcastle would likely have been much closer to the top eight.
And Gallen told the Leader the Knights’ eight-point upset of the finals-bound Panthers last weekend had the Sharks captain wary.
If you don’t turn up against Newcastle, if you don’t respect them, they’ll pull your pants down.Sharks captain Paul Gallen
“If you don’t turn up against Newcastle, if you don’t respect them, they’ll pull your pants down like they did at Penrith,” he said.
“They’ve got Pearce playing well. Kalyn Ponga is as good a player as you’ve seen.
“They’re a good side. They’ve had a few injury concerns during the year, that’s probably why they are where they are on the ladder. We’ve got to play well to beat them.”
It will be a special day at Shark Park as Cronulla farewell a number of players who will play their final home games.
As well as the retiring Luke Lewis, the Sharks will also see off Newcastle-bound pair Edrick Lee and Jesse Ramien, Ricky Leutele (Toronto Wolfpack) and Joseph Paulo (St Helens).
There is also the question of James Segeyaro, who is out of contract with Cronulla at the end of the season and has attracted reported interest from Canterbury and Parramatta.
Ramien and Leutele will miss the match after picking up ankle and knee injuries in the win over North Queensland on Saturday night, though Cronulla are expected to welcome back Wade Graham from his own knee problem.
Cronulla did enough to spoil Johnathan Thurston’s Sydney farewell against the Cowboys but Gallen believes the Sharks haven’t yet reached their potential with the premiership race wide open.
“We’ve got heaps of improvement in us. It’s a matter of whether we get there or not. That’s probably the big issue for us the last couple of years,” he said.
“We’ve just got to realise that when we stick to the plan like we did last week [against Melbourne] we’re good. When we go away from it like we did at times [against the Cowboys] we make it hard for ourselves.
“I don’t like tossing out cliches but honestly we just need to take it one week at a time. That’s the Knights [this] week. It’s our last home game here [this season], we’ve got a lot to play for. There’s half a dozen blokes [playing their] last home game at the club.
“You’d like to think we’ve got it all to play for. Also trying to get in that top four but they’re not going to come down here and lay down. [This] week is the big concern.
“Every game is dangerous. Anyone can beat anyone on their day. I think everyone knows that and you’ve got to turn up every week in this competition. So it’s up to us to turn up and be better than we were [against the Cowboys].”