Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
Bulldogs v Sharks
Monday 7pm (AEDT)
What has poor old Peter Sharp gotten himself into? Taking the reins down in the Shire as Shane Flanagan serves his NRL suspension, the Sharks endured the Monday night from hell as they were ground down in an 18-12 loss to the Titans.
Talismanic skipper Paul Gallen joined key men Todd Carney, Beau Ryan, Luke Lewis, Anthony Tupou and Jeff Robson on the club’s injured list and $4 million-dollar man Andrew Fifita left Remondis Stadium signed with the boys from Bankstown. Oh, and Fifita found himself on report for a shoulder charge that will rule him out for two weeks right when the Sharks need his game-busting ability most.
Anything else? Well truth be told, the undermanned Sharks were very average against the Titans; running for 400 less metres than the Gold Coast, making only one line break and four offloads in the first 70 minutes and playing themselves out of the match with silly penalties and poor fifth-tackle options over the last half-hour with the result in the balance.
The silver lining for Cronulla? Canterbury were not much better in their first outing of 2014, hammering the Broncos’ line for the final twenty minutes only to come away with nothing but wistful observations that without Ben Barba their attack is more chihuahua than Bulldog.
Clearly missing the spark the enigmatic Queenslander provided from the back, the Bulldogs will look to five-eighth Josh Reynolds’ renowned running game to get their offence moving, while Trent Hodkinson turns out in his 50th appearance for the club since following Hasler to Belmore in 2011.
The Sharks' former NSW five eighth Carney is again out with a hamstring injury for Members' Round. The loss of Gallen to an ankle injury is a huge blow, while reserve prop Siosaia Vave has also been outed by the judiciary - handing David Fifita a NRL debut. The big talking point for tonight will be the impending NRL debut of brilliant young Sharks hooker Michael Lichaa - believed to be signed with the Bulldogs for next season. Penani Manumalealii has also been touted for a debut tonight and veteran Chris Heighington is back form injury.
The Bulldogs named an unchanged side from Round, with boom youngster Moses Mbye to drop off the bench. The club will be buoyant after the mid-week re-signing of England Test prop James Graham.
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Watch Out Bulldogs: The Sharks are under the pump for the umpteenth time in the last 12 months and this is where they thrive. And with the Dogs leading one hell of a recruitment drive through the Shire, snaring Fifita and perhaps also gun Junior Kangaroos hooker Lichaa, the embattled visitors would love nothing more to stick it to the club seemingly taking advantage of the turmoil the Sharks find themselves in.
Carney is undoubtedly the Sharks' main threat, so the Bulldogs have dodged a bullet for tonight's clash.
Watch Out Sharks: Sam Perrett has been nothing if not consistent since transferring to the Dogs in early 2012 and with 18 tries from 25 appearances and nine line breaks last year, you can set your watch to the Kiwi international continuing these numbers as he settles into his new fullback role.
Big Frankie Pritchard has taken to the captaincy with gusto and was one of the few consistent threats for the Bulldogs on the edge of the ruck last week, pole-axing Broncos second-rower Todd Lowrie and proving himself a handful in both attack and defence. Coming up against a right side defence of Jono Wright, Matt Prior and Blake Ayshford that hasn’t played too much football together, Pritchard could well have himself a field day.
Plays To Watch: The Bulldogs big boppers will like their chances of getting on top of the depleted Sharks pack, and if they start offloading it could make for a long night for the visitors.
Last year Josh Reynolds (33), Dale Finucane (28), Tony Willams (27) and Chase Stanley (22) all got their arms free regularly and if the Dogs can generate some second-phase play it will also go a long way to laying the all important platform for their halves and outside backs to capitalise on.
Where It Will Be Won: Whichever side can kick-start their faltering attacks will get the lollies this Monday, as both line-ups know how to grind out a win once they get in front.
With the Sharks missing key attacking weapons in Gallen, Fifita, Robson and Carney, the Dogs hold a clear advantage when it comes to personnel capable of getting their offense rolling.
The History: Played 96; Sharks 38, Bulldogs 56, drawn 2. The Dogs have won seven of their last eight against the Sharks and if they’re up at half-time it could be time to shut the gate – six of those wins have come when the Bulldogs have been in front at the break.
What Are The Odds: Money has come in thick and fast for the Bulldogs, who opened as the $1.38 favourite with Sportsbet.com.au. The Sharks were opened at $2.90 but quickly passed $3. With the injury news around Gallen and Carney bad and Fifita suspended, the Sharks starting at $4 is odds-on.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane, Gavin Reynolds; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm (AEDT).
The Way We See It: Based on the first weekend’s action it’s hard to see this one being a high-scoring affair, though don’t be surprised if the Sharks come out firing early with a few points to prove after what will be another trying week for the club.
It’s hard to see the Dogs not aiming up after such a disappointing Round 1 effort and they should prove too strong for a Sharks outfit missing so many of its stars. Bulldogs by 8 points.
*Statistics: Champion Data.
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