While Friday night’s preliminary final will be the last ever game for either Luke Lewis or Billy Slater, for some at the other end of their careers it is a chance to make a statement on the big stage.
And Lewis believes Cronulla’s youngsters have what it takes to hold their nerve under the pressure of facing the Storm in Melbourne in front of a hostile home crowd.
More than 25,000 fans are expected to pack into AAMI Park as the Sharks attempt to score a third win against the Storm this season and their third in a row in Melbourne.
The prize for Cronulla is a trip to a second grand final in three years against either the Sydney Roosters or South Sydney, with the loser eliminated.
Cronulla have nine of the 17 players who played in the 2016 decider lining up against the Storm on Friday night.
But while the Sharks are regarded as one of the oldest, most experienced squads in the competition, some of their fresher faces are much greener.
Back-rower Scott Sorensen will play just his 20th NRL game against Melbourne, while Jayden Brailey at 22-years-old has played only 44 NRL games.
Meanwhile Newcastle-bound centre Jesse Ramien will play just his 21st NRL game, one for each of his birthdays.
But Lewis, the 2016 Clive Churchill Medal winner and veteran of 323 NRL appearances across 18 seasons, said he expected Cronulla’s excellent young talent to do as they have done all season and rise to the occasion.
“The good thing about our side is all these young kids they don’t really seem to get overawed by the occasion,” Lewis said.
“I think Brails has been outstanding. Scotty Sorensen has played some awesome football for us this year. They’re just really looking forward to the opportunity and the big occasion we’ve got in front of us.
“You always say to the guys that these kind of games don’t come around too often. So just enjoy the moment, enjoy the occasion and just give it everything you’ve got and see where we end up.”
Prop Aaron Woods said the Sharks would respect the Storm but had no fear of travelling to Melbourne.
“You’ve always got to respect them when they’ve got blokes like Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cameron Munster, one of the best props in the world in Jesse Bromwich in your side. Some of them are the best players to play the game,” Woods said.
“We’ve been lucky enough to beat them twice this year but it’s semi-final time now. All that stuff goes out the window.
“It’s going to be tough, they’ve had a week off. You do respect them but if you go there with fear you’re going to stuff up. We’ve just got to play the footy that we know we can.”
Meanwhile, Sorensen could make his international rugby league debut for Tonga after being chosen in an extended Mate Ma’a squad for next month’s historic Test against Australia in Auckland.
Sorensen joins Sharks teammate Andrew Fifita in a strong squad that includes NRL stars David Fusitu’a, Robert Jennings, Daniel Tupou, Tevita Taola, Tevita Pangai jnr, Joe Ofahengaue and Siosiua Taukeiaho.
Sorensen is the nephew of New Zealand greats Dane and Kurt Sorensen but also has Tongan heritage. The 25-year-old has had a breakout season for Cronulla and will come off the bench for the Sharks against Melbourne on Friday night.