Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Sharks v Roosters
Having scored a miracle last-minute win against old rivals St George Illawarra last week, Cronulla will be looking to cement their finals spot and make a huge statement of intent when they host the Sydney Roosters on Monday night. But it will take a Herculean performance if they are to halt the momentum of the competition leaders who have won eight in a row and handed the Sharks a rugby league lesson when they belted them 40-0 just five weeks ago.
It has been another difficult week off the field for Cronulla, with further allegations related to the ASADA investigation threatening once again to distract the club from their on-field pursuits. Yet unlike Essendon in the AFL – whose wheels have well and truly fallen off – the Sharks continue to defy the odds with three wins from four since that Roosters embarrassment.
Currently in sixth spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder with 28 competition points, they need just one more win to guarantee themselves a spot come September and will probably sneak in anyway even if they suffer a sudden and dramatic collapse.
Of course, they’ll be aiming much higher than that. This is the time of year when the true contenders start to make a statement and with the likes of Beau Ryan and Anthony Tupou returning from injury last week and lock Wade Graham back this week, perhaps the stars are indeed aligning at the right time of year?
Nevertheless, it’s been a long time since any side has even come close to downing the Chooks. Their eight-game winning run has seen them score a whopping 266 points including at least 28 points in each of their past six, while they have managed to hold opponents to nil on five separate occasions in 2013.
The impact of their big-name signings this season – Sonny Bill Williams, James Maloney and Michael Jennings – comes as no surprise but they also boast tremendous depth with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck impressing at fullback in the absence of injured captain Anthony Minichiello and Daniel Mortimer providing a great foil for Maloney and Pearce as well as hooker Jake Friend off the bench.
That’s the dilemma facing the Sharks this week – the Roosters boast so many weapons that containing them all is nigh on impossible. Still, if any side loves grinding opponents into submission it is Cronulla and they won’t be lacking for motivation this time around.
Graham’s return to the starting line-up sees Jason Bukuya drop back to the bench with Sam Tagataese now listed as the 18th man.
Dylan Napa comes onto the Roosters’ bench in place of Samisoni Langi while coach Trent Robinson is yet to name a replacement for Luke O’Donnell who has accepted a three-week ban for a dangerous throw on Tim Simona last Monday.
Watch Out Sharks: He has played on the wing for most of the season but with two games now under his belt at fullback for the Roosters there is plenty to be excited about when it comes to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. After a slow but steady start in the No.1 jersey against Canberra two weeks ago, Tuivasa-Sheck was superb against Wests Tigers last Monday with 179 metres. This season he leads the Roosters for line-breaks with 17, averages 133 metres per game and boasts 78 tackle-breaks.
Watch Out Roosters: With the Sharks back to full strength in time for the finals, they will be looking for their two giant metre-eaters to trundle them up the field. Captain Paul Gallen has been his usual busy self in 2013 with an average 183 metres to go with 27 offloads and 37 tackle-breaks while Andrew Fifita has averaged 151 metres with 30 offloads and 82 tackle-breaks.
Plays To Watch: The Todd Carney face-ball. One of Carney’s favourite plays – especially when attacking close to the line – it will see Carney take the Steeden at first receiver before firing a flat pass across the face of his outside man to a second support player on the outside. He can produce this pass on both sides of the field and it has proven to be extremely effective in 2013.
Key Match-Up: Todd Carney v James Maloney. Todd Carney was desperately unlucky to miss out on State of Origin this season after enjoying a wonderful series in 2012 and he will be keen to make a statement against the man that replaced him. Maloney has been brilliant for the Roosters and a major reason for their rise to the top of the ladder so it promises to be a fascinating battle.
Where It Will Be Won: On the edges where both sides like to attack. Watch for Cronulla to go to the likes of Andrew Fifita, Luke Lewis and Wade Graham in the attacking zone while the Roosters boast the brilliance of Sonny Bill Williams, Aidan Guerra and Frank-Paul Nuuausala.
The History: Played 84; Roosters 55, Sharks 27, drawn 2. The Roosters haven’t won at Cronulla since 2009 but the Sharks have won only two of their past 12 Monday night fixtures.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise & Peter Gough; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Patten.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Sharks v Roosters clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: This game could well be one of the clashes of the year with Cronulla at full strength and the Roosters missing key trio Anthony Minichiello, Boyd Cordner and Luke O’Donnell to injury and suspension. Still, they have shown no signs of slowing down yet despite the odd setback and in their current form we can’t go against them. Roosters by 10 points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.