The Queensland side have maintained a formidable home record and head into this clash high on confidence
The Sharks have it all to do on Saturday as they take on the defending champion Reds at their fortress in Brisbane.
Both sides have hit some impressive form at the business end of the season to squeeze into the play-offs, so we should be set for an evenly balanced duel at Suncorp Stadium.
The Reds have had their difficulties this season, and only snuck into the play-offs through the back door, but they also showed great fighting spirit and determination to get into this position which is a vital factor in knock-out rugby.
Despite struggling with injuries and having to recover from a tough tour of South Africa the Queensland side have maintained a formidable home record and head into this clash high on confidence following a golden run of six consecutive victories.
The Sharks have also gained momentum in the second half of the competition, with key players returning from injury, and have shown that they have the tools to dismantle any opponent when on song.
The visitors will be abrasive as possible as they seek to push the Reds onto the back foot, so expect a heavy onslaught in the scrums and the collisions.
The Reds are very efficient in their set-pieces and their forward pack is not easily bullied, so they will provide a stern physical test up front for a Sharks team that thrives on dominance in the tight phases.
The home side would have noted how the Sharks were thwarted in the first half last week by Cheetahs openside flank Heinrich Brussow, and are likely to target the breakdown as the key to frustrating them.
Young Liam Gill could have a pivotal role to play as he could be a serious thorn in the Sharks' side on the ground, but could also give away important penalties if he takes too many risks trying to steal the ball.
Behind the pack all eyes will be on Ben Lucas who has to fill Quade Cooper's boots, but the focus for the Sharks will be on Reds scrumhalf and skipper Will Genia who should play a more prominent decision-making role.
Both teams have exciting runners out wide, but the key will be to provide them with quick ball in space which brings us back to their ability to boss the gainline.
The Reds will be playing at home in front of an expected crowd of around 45 000 against a Sharks side that has had to shake off the long flight, so there are a number of factors in their favour as they launch their title defence.
However that does not mean that they will be able to cruise against a Sharks team that scored more log points than them this season. The Durban side stumbled at this stage of the competition last year and will be determined to show that they can beat anyone anywhere.
Players to watch:
For the Reds: Rob Simmons has had to step up in the absence of his lock partner and skipper James Horwill, and has a major role to play in the line-outs and tight phases. Liam Gill will be out to expose the Sharks at the breakdown whilst in the backline the Reds are likely to get the explosive Digby Ioane involved as often as possible and Genia will look to dictate matters from behind the scrum
For the Sharks: Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts are back in the starting line-up this weekend, and their ability to physically dominate the opposition to free up some space for their loose trio will be vital for the Sharks. Alberts is playing at lock, which is something of a gamble, but it does mean that they start the match with seven Springboks in the pack. In the midfield Paul Jordaan returns from injury to partner Tim Whitehead, and the pressure will be on the relatively inexperienced pair to handle the occasion and create some space for the players outside them like the on-form JP Pietersen.
Head to head: Ioane and Pietersen are two of the most devastating runners in the world right now so watching them square off should be a highlight. Lucas will be measured against the experienced French trickster Frederic Michalak, but the key battles will be in the pack. The Sharks' front row will be expected to have the upper hand, but there will be a concern that the fairly experimental lock pairing could be an achilles heel against the settled Reds unit.
2012: Sharks won 27-22 in Durban
2010: Sharks won 30-28 in Durban
2009: Reds won 25-13 in Brisbane
2008: Sharks won 22-10 in Durban
2007: Sharks won 59-16 in Brisbane
Prediction: This should be flat out intensity for 80 minutes, and in truth both sides have the weapons to take victory if they get things right. However, it is hard to look past the Reds' intimidating home record which should give them the edge in such an evenly-matched contest, so for that reason we think the Reds will win by about three points.
Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Tapuai.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Date: Saturday, July 21
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19.40 (09.40 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy and windy - 40 km/h. High of 19 low of 12
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Michael de Vries