Sharks v Rabbitohs
The South Sydney wagon continues to roll on effortlessly – and this time it is Cronulla in the sights of Greg Inglis and co.
Souths are the hottest side in the NRL right now, having won four in a row and nine of 10 games this season and it’s going to take a mighty effort for anyone to stop them while they’re performing so strongly.
It’s hard to spot a weakness. Last season they made it to within one week of the grand final on the back of a monster forward pack and the likes of Inglis and Nathan Merritt running riot out wide. This year that pack has taken some huge strides forward with the addition of Queensland State of Origin back-rower Ben Te’o and the emergence of monster prop George Burgess. The Burgess boys alone are a fearsome proposition and bring the sort of devastating impact that competitions are won on. None of their opponents this year have quite managed to come to terms with them.
The halves have also had a huge say. Five-eighth John Sutton has long been a player of immense talent but his consistency was lacking: not anymore, with the 28-year-old leading his side by example. Likewise, young halfback Adam Reynolds continues his impressive rise and his ability to control a game with the boot sets the tone for the Rabbitohs’ dominance of field position.
But it is Inglis that looms largest. We’ve witnessed some hot bursts of form from the game’s top fullbacks over the years – namely Jarryd Hayne’s phenomenal run for Parramatta in 2009 and Ben Barba for Canterbury last season, but Inglis could well be on his way to eclipsing both of them.
His four tries last week against Wests Tigers saw him join Merritt as the NRL’s top try scorer this year (with 11) and he leads the league for both metres gained (with 1822 at 182 per game) and tackle-breaks (with 62).
No doubt he will play a significant role in Cronulla’s preparations this week as they look to find a way to blunt his influence.
The Sharks have endured a disrupted 2013 due to the ASADA investigations that have endured since before season kick-off. It certainly impacted them during the early rounds as the side many tipped for a top-four finish limped to a 2-5 start to the year although with three wins in a row now they appear to have found a way to push the distractions aside.
Cronulla is one side with the mongrel up front to take on the South Sydney challenge and the presence of skipper Paul Gallen, who returns from injury just in time for Origin, provides a huge boost. In fact, the Sharks’ back row has been superb over the past month in Gallen’s absence while Andrew Fifita has really stepped up with 654 metres over the past three weeks combined, so the signs are all positive in the Shire.
Their premiership credentials remain somewhat clouded given off-field events and their slow start to the year but knocking over the Rabbitohs would certainly put those doubts to bed.
Gallen is joined by Luke Lewis in returning to the field this week with Chris Heighington and Jason Bukuya dropping back to the bench. Tyrone Peachey and Sam Tagataese have been retained in an extended 19-man squad.
Souths retain the same squad that thrashed the Tigers last week with hooker Issac Luke looking to reach a milestone – needing four line breaks to reach 50 for the career. Luke leads the NRL’s No.9s for metres gained (758m), tackle breaks (29), and offloads (11) this season.
The Rabbitohs have won six of their past eight games against Cronulla but they will note that the Sharks have actually averaged 53 metres per game more than them in 2013!
Watch Out Sharks: South Sydney are dangerous right across the park but they love nothing more than attacking to their left edge where Bryson Goodwin and Nathan Merritt have been having a field day this season.
Merritt is again sitting on top of the NRL’s try scoring list in 2013 with 11 (the same as Greg Inglis) as well as contributing eight line-breaks and 17 tackle-breaks. Goodwin, who was recently re-signed after joining the Bunnies from Canterbury this season, has scored four tries, made seven line breaks, produced three try assists and made 21 tackle breaks.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: The remarkable form of Andrew Fifita in recent weeks and the return from injury of Paul Gallen means the Sharks now have two forwards capable of eating up huge metres this week. Fifita has been unstoppable of late: in Round 8 he notched a whopping 151 metres against Newcastle, backed that up with 189 metres a week later against Wests Tigers and added 204 more last week against Canberra. Gallen, meanwhile, has been busy as usual in 2013 with an average 166 metres per game.
Plays To Watch: Todd Carney calling a quick, short-side play on the left. Always prompt to spot an opportunity – particularly when an opposition centre comes in-field to make a tackle – this is one of Carney’s favourite plays. From a quick play-the-ball he will race around to the left edge and call for the ball before running to the line and throwing a cut-out ball to his own centre to capitalise on the extra man. Jonathan Wright scored a terrific try in this manner against Newcastle three weeks ago and he did it again for Wright to score Cronulla’s first against Canberra last week.
Key Match-Up: Paul Gallen v Sam Burgess. This promises to be one of the great personal duels – the NSW State of Origin captain up against England international and Rabbitohs enforcer Burgess. Make no mistake, these two will be out to make a statement against their opponent this week and given how important each is to their side’s fortunes, whoever comes out on top will go a long way towards helping their side secure victory.
Where It Will Be Won: In the forwards. A cliché? Sure, but these are the two most-physical forward packs in the NRL and they won’t be holding back when they line up against one another this week. It’s a mouth-watering prospect – Gallen, Lewis, Graham and Fifita v the Burgess brothers, Asotasi and Te’o.
The History: Played 80; Sharks 41, Rabbitohs 36, drawn 3. Souths boast as good a record against Cronulla as they do against any other club this century with a 55 per cent winning record and six wins from their past eight meetings. Cronulla have won just one of their past 11 Monday night games.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Grant Atkins & Peter Gough; Video Referee – Ashley Klein & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Sharks v Rabbitohs clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm AEST.
The Way We See It: What shapes as a gripping encounter will see the Rabbitohs facing a side not afraid to get down and dirty in the trenches with them. The Sharks certainly have the ability to claim the two points here, but can anyone really tip against the in-form Rabbitohs just now? Souths are riding a hot streak, their confidence is high and they deserve favouritism in this one. Rabbitohs by 10 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats