Most teams in the NRL are understandably fearful of the Rabbitohs’ awesome forward pack, but the Sharks insist they aren’t concerned ahead of their meeting with the Bunnies on Monday night, declaring their own pack up there with the best in the competition.
South Sydney’s big boppers have laid a winning platform in 2013, with the Rabbitohs sitting atop the premiership ladder following nine wins from 10 starts. Cronulla, though, say they aren’t intimidated by the red-and-green’s pack that features the likes of George and Sam Burgess, Issac Luke and Chris McQueen – some of the most destructive forwards going around.
The Sharks, in high spirits following a three-game winning streak, believe their forward pack is not to be messed with. And, with a squad featuring Andrew Fifita, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham, Chris Heighington and Sam Tagataese, they feel their team no longer relies solely on the superhuman efforts of skipper Paul Gallen.
“I think on our day we’re definitely [one of the best packs in the competition],” second-rower Anthony Tupou, off contract at the end of the season but keen to remain in the Shire, tells NRL.com.
“We’ve got a consistent forward pack, we don’t really rely on one man. We can fill the spots if there are injuries, like ‘Gal’ our leader if he’s down… we can bring someone in who does just as good a job.
“It’s definitely up there – it’s one of the best forward packs I’ve played in. Our bench is as strong as the starting side. The players missing out – guys like Mark Taufua – are quality first-graders.”
Last week the Sharks dominated the big Raiders pack in the middle of the field even without Gallen and Lewis, rolling downfield for almost 1500 metres. That territory gain is a key component of Cronulla’s style – they lead the league in metres gained, averaging 1462 per match.
Fellow Sharks forward Ben Ross, himself a former Origin player, says Round 10’s win was particularly pleasing without their rep duo and another great sign of the depth at the club.
“They’re two internationals – most teams aren’t lucky enough to have two internationals,” Ross says of last week’s victory without Gallen and Lewis.
“We’re just lucky we’ve got old heads like ‘Toops’ who has played for Australia and NSW, myself who has played for Queensland and Wade’s played for the Prime Minister’s squad. We’re lucky like that.
“Potentially we do have [one of the best packs] – we’ve just got to hit it. We sometimes lose our way but potentially we’ve got a great forward pack to match other teams’ packs. The Cowboys have a great forward pack and Canberra do too. I wouldn’t say we’ve got the best forward pack because there are a few but so long as we do our jobs we’ve got a great backline who’ll finish it off.”
Former Australian and NSW back-rower Tupou, though, believes the Rabbitohs, on a four-match winning streak, present a special challenge on Monday night.
“Watching them, they’re awesome,” Tupou, who recently notched 200 NRL games, says.
“Their whole side, not just their forward pack. It’s hard to point out one of their main strengths because they’re good right across the field.”
One of the Sharks’ most impressive performers last week was debutant Tyrone Peachey. A former under-20s star for Cronulla, Peachey, the nephew of former Cronulla great David, added great energy and attacking spark from the bench and has been named by coach Shane Flanagan in an extended squad for Monday night’s clash at Sharks Stadium.
Peachey says the experience of pulling on the black, white and blue and playing first grade is one he’ll never forget.
“I was excited all week and nervous leading up to the game and just relieved that I’ve made my debut,” Peachey says.
“I’ve been waiting a long time – I waited like two years since under-20s – and I’m just happy it happened.”
Peachey, used as a midfield back-rower on debut but happy to play “anywhere they want me”, is off contract at the end of 2013. The former Under-20s Team of the Year member says his desire is to stay at the club, should a suitable offer come his way.
“I want to be a Shark but whatever happens, happens,” Peachey, a livewire attacking threat who has already scored 12 tries in the NSW Cup this year, says.
“When I was 10 my parents moved me up here (from Dubbo) and I’ve just loved it up here. I don’t want to leave Cronulla. It’s a good place.
“I’m not sure when [a contract for 2014 will] be sorted – that’s up to my manager. That’s his job, not mine.”
Cronulla’s seasoned first-graders and rep stars believe the second generation of Peachey could prove just as successful as 232-game Shark legend David.
“I’ve been watching him last year and this year and he’s been really good – he hasn’t just come out of nowhere,” Tupou says.
“He’s done the hard yards in reserve grade and he’s killed it every week. A good performance out there (against the Raiders) doesn’t surprise me – I think he’s got a lot more to offer this year. He’s a real player of the future. He’s dangerous – you don’t really expect it for his size – and he’s strong and fast and skillful. There’s not much more you can ask for.”
Five-eighth Todd Carney, no doubt still coming to terms with his shock omission from the NSW Origin side, agrees.
“This won’t be the last you see of Tyrone.”
Whether we get another opportunity to see Peachey this week, against the top-of-the-table Rabbitohs, remains to be seen.