Sharks v Knights
THE last time these two teams played under lights at Toyota Stadium, perhaps one of 2008’s most dire games of football was played.
In Round 19 last year, the Sharks prevailed 16-13 over the Knights in one of the ugliest contests you’d ever see.
If the Sharks have anything to do with it, Monday night’s rematch will follow suit as the Cronulla side will no doubt try to win this one in the trenches.
With Reni Maitua still sitting on the sidelines, Ben Ross gone from their prop rotation for the season (neck), halfback Brett Seymour stood down (being investigated for alleged drunken behaviour) and integral attack and clean-up man Brett Kearney also absent at fullback (ankle), the Sharks know they’re in a battle as far as personnel is concerned.
The Knights are a more expansive side than Cronulla and if they can create space, they will have too many points in them for the home side. However, finding space against the Sharks is the challenge, and Ricky Stuart is the master of guiding his team to victory in a scrap.
Cronulla will try to drag Newcastle down to their level, and if do they will win. But if the Knights can maintain the attacking style of football they’re known for, they might just trump their opponents.
Of course the other problem for Newcastle seems to be their consistency. Last week against the Titans they blew a 14-0 lead to lose dismally. They will need to play for 80 to beat Cronulla who are experts at hanging in for the long haul.
Torrential rain last week didn’t help the Sharks find continuity between new key men Trent Barrett, Corey Hughes and now they will have to work with a new halfback (most likely Blake Green) after Seymour was dumped from this week’s team.
The scrum-base partnership is still finding its feet, although the fact they still proved too good for Penrith in their season-opener shows they are still one of the toughest NRL teams to beat.
Watch out Sharks: The Knights know just one style of football – and that is to play positively. This doesn’t always see them win but it will ensure they give Cronulla’s defence a workout come Monday.
Newcastle captain Kurt Gidley was frustrated by his performance last week and will be keen to hit back. Popping up anywhere on the park, Gidley is the centrepiece of the Knights’ attack and he, Jarrod Mullen and Isaac De Gois will ask questions of the Sharks’ line.
De Gois, dynamic out of dummy-half, will be extra keen to impress against his former side.
Watch out Knights: If Andrew Johns used to define how the Knights played football, then Cronulla captain Paul Gallen (30 tackles last week for just two misses) typifies how they play rugby league down in the Shire: tough, uncompromising and with heart.
Locking the scrum, Gallen will ensure the Sharks’ forwards continue to roll forward, even without Ross, and he is the player the Knights need to put off his game.
Gallen is the nerve-centre of Cronulla and if he is stifled, then the whole ship can sink.
If Newcastle is to win they need to rise above the Sharks’ dreary style, but they must also be prepared to roll their sleeves up and fight this one on the ground.
Where it will be won: The Knights need to win in two areas on Monday night if they’re to take two points away from Toyota Stadium. First, they need to at least match Newcastle in the engine room. With Dan Tolar out with injury, Mark Taufua comes into the front row and he along with Ben Cross have the responsibility of getting the Novocastrians on the front foot.
Cory Paterson, Zeb Taia and Chris Houston (pick of the Knights last week making 108 metres off the bench) can certainly play football but they need to follow Steve Simpson’s lead and play tough. Last week against the Gold Coast, Newcastle didn’t have a player who made more than 30 tackles for the match; De Gois made the most with 27.
The Sharks’ engine room of Gallen, along with Luke Douglas (last week made a whopping 37 tackles), Anthony Tupou (30 tackles against the Panthers), Corey Hughes and Reece Williams will be over their opponents like a pack of wolves if given the chance, so the Knights must charge early.
Provided Newcastle can go the distance in the middle of the park, the second challenge for them is to put points on the board. They have the attacking players, but they must execute their plays otherwise Cronulla will ultimately frustrate them out of the match.
Excitement machines Akuila Uate, Junior Sau and James McManus need to see quality ball. Gidley and Mullen need to have their timing right and pivot Ben Rogers needs to find some form after a shocker last week.
For Cronulla, field position is the key. If their forwards can get them into good real estate often enough, then Barrett’s classy running and passing games will see them home.
However, last week the Sharks struggled in attack: Tupou and Ross were the only players to break the line for the entire match. It’s a big challenge for new Sharks fullback David Simmons, who must fill the shoes of Kearney and provide an extra option in the sky-blue backline.
The history: Played 33; Knights 18; Sharks 14, drawn 1. However, at Toyota Stadium results are geared in Cronulla’s favour: they hold a 10-6 advantage from 16 matches in the Shire.
Conclusion: At home on a Monday night, Cronulla should win this one simply because they’re the best fighters in the NRL. You could chop everyone’s left arm off and they’d still sink their teeth in and make tackles.
The Knights certainly have a sniff. They will be disappointed with how they shaped up last week and will be keen to show off their exciting wares. Ben Ross, Brett Kearney, Brett Seymour and Reni Maitua are significant losses and the Sharks look vulnerable.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Paul Holland; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live from 7pm.
* Stats: NRL Stats