Barba to fill Sharks’ Origin void

With his side decimated by the representative period talent drain, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is expected to hand Ben Barba his creative licence against Penrith this weekend.

The Sharks face the startling prospect of going into their NRL clash against the Panthers at Pepper Stadium on Sunday as rank outsiders despite riding a club-record 12 NRL streak.

Without Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, James Maloney, Jack Bird and Wade Graham, who are away on State of Origin duties, they face the biggest test of their three-month-long winning run.

Having used just 19 players all season, they are expected to blood five new faces, giving them the first real test of their depth of the 2016 season.

With dominant playmaker Maloney away, Nu Brown is expected to come into the halves but halfback Chad Townsend said he expected fullback Barba to get his hands on the ball a lot more.

“I think (Barba) was a little bit hard done by not be picked for Queensland, he’s in some of the best form of his career,” Townsend said.

“It’s a pleasure to watch, him in a bit of space is what we want to see.

“I think this weekend with Jimmy missing, we will see Benny step up and get a bit more ball in his hand and stand up a bit more at first receiver and take a bit of pressure off the boys.”

Brown, who has not been sighted in first grade since tearing his ACL at the 2015 Auckland Nines, trained alongside Townsend in the halves on Tuesday.

Mitch Brown is expected to get his first call up of the year while former Manly forward Jesse Sene-Lefao is expected to make his club debut.

Winger Valentine Holmes (hamstring) is expected to return after missing Saturday’s win over Parramatta however Ricky Leutele is in doubt with an ankle problem.

“I guess it’s a little bit of an element of luck not having too many injuries,” Townsend said.

“We’ve got all the confidence in the world that the guys that can come in can do a job done on the weekend.”

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