Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent, NRL.com
Sharks v Roosters
Saturday, 7.30pm (AEST)
There have been exactly 48 games played so far this year, which means – if our second-grade maths is correct – that there have been 24 outright winners and the same amount of losers. (That's taking into account games played before the start of Round 7, and with no draws occurring.)
Of those 24 victories however, just three belong to the Roosters and Sharks combined which, even at this stage of the year, is a poor return from two teams considered among the League's superpowers at the start of the season.
And while the panic button isn't an option just yet for the star-studded defending premiers, Cronulla's interim coach Peter Sharp would be tempted to press it as the Shiremen move from one disastrous loss to the next.
The former Northern Eagles coach is fast running out of adjectives to describe his side's lifeless start to the year, having labelled last week's 24-4 no-show against Manly as "embarrassing". Just two weeks prior, the Sharks' minder said his team was "miles off'" a win (they managed to defeat the Warriors in between).
And with the NRL season a quarter of the way through, last year's semi-finalists currently occupy the final rung on the ladder and will have to win – yes, we've reached this point already – roughly 11 of their final 18 games to scrape their way into the top eight.
And the long road back begins on Saturday night against a shell-shocked Roosters outfit that are finding out the hard way why no side has won back-to-back trophies since the Broncos' dynasty of 1992-93.
Trent Robinson's side almost did enough to overcome a surging Eels group in Parramatta last weekend but couldn't throw a final punch, eventually going down 14-12 on a greasy Saturday evening.
The Sharks might be struggling to put together any semblance of a cohesive football team, but Robinson has already conceded that his team is lacking the steely edge that was the hallmark of their success in 2013.
With Sharks skipper Paul Gallen at least another week away from returning, now is as good a time as any for an opposition to make a visit to the Shire. But on the flipside, going up against the Roosters when they are staring a fourth straight defeat is as good a time as any for the Sharks to not be too scared of the champs.
Sharp has stuck with largely the same side that was trounced at Brookvale last week, but recalled Jonathan Wright on the wing for Nathan Stapleton, who will play NSW Cup just a fortnight after his four-try heroics against the Warriors.
Robinson has picked the same 17 who went down to the Eels last week, with Dylan Napa and Daniel Mortimer added to a six-man bench.
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Watch Out Sharks: He rarely gets the accolades he deserves because of the NSW team's lack of success in Origin, but good things are happening when you're running off Mitchell Pearce right now. The incumbent Blues halfback leads the league in line break assists (11), and bustling second-rowers Mitchell Aubusson (four line breaks) and Boyd Cordner (four) are reaping the rewards of running good lines. He's also set up more tries than any teammate.
Watch Out Roosters: Todd Carney might be the fulcrum of Cronulla's attack, but in all honesty, the only threat in the sky blue right now is the bloke in the No. 1, Michael Gordon. He's yet to cross the line this year but he's assisted on more line breaks than anyone else on his team (four), and has set up just as many tries as his decorated five-eighth (three). A former Origin rep himself, Gordon is one of the few players in the Shire who can hold his head up in the midst of their slump.
Plays To Watch: Daniel Tupou's 90-metre effort was super-human, but it wasn't a fluke. The Roosters, particularly when under pressure inside their own danger zone, always look to isolate the long-limbed Tupou or the dancing feet of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at one of the smaller halves. And with a team-high 17 missed tackles against his name, keep your eye on Todd Carney to be severely tested in defence early in sets.
The Sharks, meanwhile, have fallen into the habit of standing and gawking at Todd Carney prancing across the field as if he were some ballerina with magic wand in her hands, waiting for him to pull out a winning play. It will be interesting to see whether Sharp has come up with something else in attack.
Where It Will Be Won: During the week. It's probably the second most significant match-up between the two sides. Preparation will be key for the Roosters, whose heads were clearly off with the fairies when they bombed a couple of tries you'll likely never see from a Robinson-coached side again in this lifetime. The Sharks' woes are beginning to reflect in their negative game plans. Sharp's coaching repertoire is being fully tested right now, as well as his ability to insert some urgency into his team.
Played 91; Sharks 32, Roosters 57, drawn 2. A Sharks side missing big names Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham, Anthony Tupou and Jeff Robson were handed a heavy 40-0 spanking at Allianz Stadium in Round 19 last season, but the troops all came back for the return bout just five weeks later to record a 32-22 upset win at home. However, that was Cronulla's only victory in their past four starts, including one draw.
What Are The Odds: The Roosters ($1.35) have been the best backed team of the round with Sportsbet.com.au and it's all one-way traffic. Punters are not only tipping a Roosters win, but they think they will do it easy with the line of 8.0 getting plenty of interest.
Match Officials: Referees - Henry Perenara & Alan Shortall; Touch Judges – Dan Eastwood & Michael Wise; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7.30pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: We have absolute faith in the Roosters turning around their slow start to the season at the expense of the battling Sharks. Three straight losses are enough for the defending premiers – we can't see them losing a fourth against a side playing some uninspiring football.