Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Sharks v Wests Tigers
Rest assured there were plenty of Cronulla players – namely Beau Ryan, Chris Heighington, Andrew Fifita and Bryce Gibbs – who had this clash pencilled into their diaries when the draw was released late last year.
The former Tigers were all controversially released by the club over the course of the past two seasons and, having reunited in the Shire, will be determined to put one over their old teammates for the second time this year after prevailing in their first meeting back in Round 9.
But old sentiments aside, this is a huge clash for both Cronulla and Wests Tigers as they look to keep their seasons rolling along in the right direction.
Despite a tough 24-4 loss to North Queensland last start, the Sharks still find themselves in a terribly tight battle for a top-four spot and could potentially leapfrog Manly should they notch a valuable win this Friday night. They currently sit level with the Gold Coast and Canterbury on 18 competition points – one behind the Sea Eagles – so every win from here on in takes on extra significance.
However, the State of Origin period is taking a much greater roll on Shane Flanagan’s men this season than in previous years given their added representation in the NSW squad and the absence of captain Paul Gallen is a mountain they must learn to overcome for the short term at least.
For Wests Tigers, a season that looked headed for complete disaster has been stunningly resurrected of late with four wins from their past five starts including an impressive 22-4 defeat of Melbourne last weekend. Decimated by injury earlier in the season, the fact that they still sit in 14th on the NRL ladder after their recent string of victories shows just how difficult their 2013 has been.
The Tigers now find themselves just two points outside the top eight but they need to keep winning if they are to push for a top-eight berth. Still, no matter what happens from this point on, their torrid injury run has helped them unleash some extremely impressive young talent – none better than 21-year-old winger Tim Simona who scored a brilliant long-range solo try and set up another against the Storm last week.
If they can continue to see that sort of contribution from the rookies and have the likes of Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah firing at the same time, a finals finish would be well and truly within their grasp.
Michael Gordon returns at fullback for the Sharks with Beau Ryan named on the wing pending a fitness test on his injured knee. Luke Lewis moves to the centres in place of Ben Pomeroy following the Cowboys loss, with Stewart Mills coming onto the bench.
Anthony Tupou has also earned a call-up to the starting 13 while Gibbs is set to play his first game of the season against his former club.
Tigers coach Mick Potter enjoys a rare luxury this week – naming the same 17 that beat Melbourne at Leichhardt last Friday night.
The Sharks are averaging the most points at home in eight seasons with 21.3 points per game although they don’t boast a great record against the Tigers who enjoy a 68 per cent win rate at Remondis Stadium – the best of any club. The Tigers also average more points at the venue than anywhere else with 29.1 points per game.
Watch Out Sharks: Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan will no doubt have warned his troops not to get lazy when defending young Tigers winger Tim Simona. The speedster turned last week’s clash with Melbourne on its head when he scooped up a stray pass and raced 90 metres to score, then set up another when he scooped the ball up in his own in-goal and turned three defenders inside out as he raced 50 metres up-field. Simona finished the game with 237 metres to his name and will pose a real threat again this weekend.
Watch Out Tigers: With Paul Gallen sidelined through injury, fellow Origin forward Andrew Fifita will need to shoulder some of the burden but he has already showed a great ability to do just that in 2013. In Round 8, when Gallen was forced off after just four minutes with injury, Fifita responded by running for 251 metres. A week later, with Gallen still out, he made 189 metres followed by 204 and 210 metres through Rounds 10 and 11. Expect him to step up again with Gallen’s absence this week.
Plays To Watch: The attacking kick has been mastered by both of these sides – particularly by Sharks five-eighth Todd Carney and Tigers hooker Robbie Farah. Farah boasts arguably the best short grubber in the NRL and will look for any opportunity to stab the ball in behind the line when the Tigers are deep on the attack, while Carney’s cross-field bomb has proven hugely successful in 2013.
Also, watch for Carney’s short passes to his back-rowers on the edge of the ruck when he has a backline set out behind. He loves to test the defensive reads of his opponents in this precise situation.
Where It Will Be Won: This one is all about the forwards, where three former Tigers players will be out to make a statement for Cronulla against their old club. Andrew Fifita, Chris Heighington and Bryce Gibbs will all line up for the Sharks this weekend against the Tigers’ front row trio of Adam Blair, Robbie Farah and NSW Origin debutante Aaron Woods. It promises to be an intriguing battle.
The History: Played 22; Tigers 15, Sharks 6, drawn 1. The Tigers need just four tries to reach 100 tries against Cronulla since they first played in 2000.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Nick Beashel; Video Referees – Gavin Badger & 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 Tigers clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live, 7.30pm (NSW); delayed 9.30pm (Qld).
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The Way We See It: A Sharks reshuffle this week makes for an interesting match-up and the Tigers will be pleased to see the absence of Paul Gallen as well as Luke Lewis playing wider out in the centres. Still, the Sharks are relentlessly tough outfit and back on home soil we think they will have just a touch too much for their opponents this week – particularly with so many former Tigers players out to make a point. Sharks by 10 points.