Cronulla coach John Morris has attempted to play down suggestions the club could lose young gun halfback Kyle Flanagan as they prepare to welcome back Shaun Johnson against Canberra.
Flanagan has reinforced his position at the NRL club after leading the Sharks' resurgence during Johnson's absence over the last month-and-a-half.
The 20-year-old son of former coach Shane Flanagan has been instrumental in the Sharks' run up the ladder which sees them sit in sixth heading into Thursday's clash with the Raiders at GIO Stadium.
After losing Johnson to a hamstring strain in round seven, Flanagan and Chad Townsend have guided their side to four wins from six games.
But Johnson's impending return highlights their battle to retain the promising youngster as he sits third in the club's halves pecking order.
Despite having two-and-a-half years to run on his contract, he has been linked with a move to the Sydney Roosters.
"As far as I can see, it's been all speculation. I'm not going to comment because I've had no approach," Morris said.
"All I can say is Kyle is here on a three-year contract and is a huge part of this team.
"I'm a bit shocked it's been getting the run it has in the media."
Johnson has been missing since round seven and both he and Flanagan will travel with the side to Canberra. However Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said he had no doubt Johnson would start.
Johnson is keen to prove his fitness ahead of New Zealand's Test against Tonga next week but Morris said he wouldn't put country ahead of club and risk further injury.
"He's always keen to represent his county," Morris said.
"He said to me during the week 'yeah I have that around the corner but I don't want to come back just to get a Test jumper. Whatever is best for the team, if I have to miss another week, I miss another week'."
The match also shapes as an important battle between NSW right-side teammates Nick Cotric and Josh Morris.
With Manly's Tom Trbojevic having returned and likely to be rushed back into the Blues team, one looks set to lose their spot.
"I personally feel he has," Stuart said when asked if Cotric deserved to keep his position.
"Tom has been out for a long time. They've (NSW) only got a short preparation this game for a very, very important game."
STATS THAT MATTER
* The Sharks have won six of the past eight games between the two teams including the past two.
* After last weeke's 28-0 win over the Wests Tigers, the Raiders have kept three opposition sides scoreless this year. Since 1996, all but one of the seven teams (North Queensland in 2016) who have held teams scoreless more than three times in the same season have made the grand final.
Australian Associated Press