Cronulla will have to win their way to the NRL grand final without captain Paul Gallen after he was ruled out of Friday night's preliminary final against Melbourne with a shoulder injury.
The 37-year-old trained with the Sharks yesterday and travelled to Melbourne with the team despite tearing tore ligaments in his shoulder during last week's one-point win over Penrith.
The Sharks had planned to give Gallen until midday today to prove his fitness, but after further assessment yesterday afternoon in Melbourne they made the call to end his race against the clock early.
However, they remain hopeful Gallen could return for next Sunday's grand final if the Sharks qualify.
"If it was a Sunday game I would say he'd be in," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said earlier on Thursday.
"He definitely improved. He loves this club and has been there all his career. He'd do anything to get out on the field and get to another grand final."
Gallen's absence will come as a massive blow to the Sharks, who are already without fellow back-rower Wade Graham.
Gallen and Graham are among the best grinding players in the NRL, the exact style of play which the Sharks have used to beat Melbourne in four of their past five meetings.
The Storm had expected Gallen to play all week, and were still preparing as if that was the case in their final training session on Thursday morning.
Kangaroos forward Aaron Woods is now expected to come into Cronulla's starting side, while 166-game NRL veteran Joseph Paulo will join the Sharks' 17 for his first finals appearance.
Flanagan admitted Gallen would be difficult to replace.
"Gal is our captain and the way he plays is very similar to what we're all about," he said.
"He's tough and ruthless and he's our forward leader. Someone is going to come in and stand up and do the job, and hopefully as good as Gal."
Meanwhile, Josh Dugan is expected to overcome a shoulder injury to be fit to take his place on one wing.