Raiders coach Ricky Stuart. Photo: Getty Images
Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has conceded his side faces a "no-win situation" against a suspension-ravaged Cronulla, and has warned his side to brace for an onslaught from the angry Sharks.
Already wracked by injury, Cronulla has been weakened further after five current players accepted immediate backdated suspensions offered by ASADA for taking prohibited substances in 2011.
NSW Origin skipper Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou were the only suspended players chosen to play the Raiders. The loser of the Remondis Stadium clash will be outright last, and favourite to finish with this year's wooden spoon.
Suspended: Sharks skipper Paul Gallen. Photo: Getty Images
On paper, the ASADA fallout gives the Raiders a significant leg-up, but Stuart has hammered into his players this week "everybody thinks we should win, except Cronulla".
Should they win it will be dismissed as a hollow victory, while a loss would be catastrophic in an already disastrous season.
Suspended: Anthony Tupou. Photo: Getty Images
Stuart coached Cronulla from 2007 to 2010, and also dealt with Gallen extensively when NSW coach.
Undoubtedly he would feel for the players, some of whom he still enjoys a close relationship with through his time at the helm.
But there'll be no room for sentiment as Canberra tries desperately to snap a five-game losing streak.
"We're in a no-win situation, they've had a week full of adversity and they'll build off that," Stuart said.
"They'll unify, and really build their game preparation on it.
"I'm expecting a very gallant and valiant display from them. We're certainly not taking it easy, we're not in any position to take any team lightly.
"We're in a really tough position in that regard, everybody expects us to win except Cronulla.
"We've tried to prepare with that in mind for the players, we are in no position to be complacent."
It will also be Raiders physiotherapist Konrad Schultz's first game back at Cronulla after he was one of four officials sacked by the Sharks.
Should Canberra finish last Stuart would become the first coach to be lumped with back-to-back spoons at different clubs after former club Parramatta propped up the table last year.
Canberra will miss the finals in consecutive years for the first time since 1986, and have the second-worst defensive record in the competition this year behind Wests.
They need to win their final two matches of the year at home against the Tigers and Parramatta just to equal their worst-ever home record of four wins in a season, set in 1982 and 2011.
The Raiders are expected to field the same side named on Tuesday after skipper Terry Campese returned from an oblique injury with NSW Cup feeder club Mounties on Saturday.
A win against Cronulla would go a long way to avoiding a first wooden spoon since their inaugural 1982 season.
Canberra and Cronulla both have five wins this season, but the Sharks are bottom due to Canberra's 57-point superior for and against differential.
The Raiders play the slumping Tigers and Parramatta at home in the final two rounds, while Cronulla faces North Queensland and the Tigers on the road.
NRL round 25: Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders at Remondis Stadium, 3pm
TV: Live on Fox Sports 1