Bulldogs v Sharks
EXPECTANT Bulldogs fans shouldn’t predict too much razzle-dazzle from their team against the Sharks on Sunday – just 80 points in total have been scored in Cronulla’s three matches so far this season. While the ’Dogs, led by their new halfback and former Shark Brett Kimmorley, have scored 74 points themselves this season, the team from the Sutherland Shire have a knack of restricting even the most flamboyant teams to limited points, ensuring an 80-minute arm wrestle.
As a result of their limited offence, the Sharks have recorded just one victory this season, against the Panthers in Round 1. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have upset the 2008 premiers, Manly, and also defeated the Panthers. The Bulldogs sit fourth on the NRL ladder (subject to the NRL breach notice and related points deduction for having a 14th man on the field against Penrith) while the Sharks are languishing in 12th position. If Cronulla is to challenge for the premiership this season it’s nearing D-Day for a solid performance. And the Bulldogs pose a big challenge.
Watch out Bulldogs: The return of half Brett Seymour is a big boost to the Sharks after yet another impotent attacking display against the Dragons last Sunday. The former Bronco’s ability to control play and offer Trent Barrett (who’s been named despite sustaining a neck injury in last week’s local derby) an effective attacking foil should not be underestimated.
Worrying for the home side is all 10 tries they’ve conceded have been from attacking raids inside their own 20-metre zone. They will need to show more resolve on their own line this week.
The Bulldogs will need to keep a particular eye out for two of Cronulla’s danger men, Ben Pomeroy and Anthony Tupou. They are the Sharks’ leading tackle-breakers, with 15 and 11 busts respectively. Tupou is of particular concern to the Bulldogs as he is the only Shark to break the opposition’s defensive line more than once this season – he’s done it twice.
Watch out Sharks: Cronulla will need to offer more in attack than they have in recent weeks, especially with ball in hand after relying on their kicking game recently.
The Bulldogs are very capable of defusing kicks and have a higher success rate in dealing with those kicks than the Sharks – 81 per cent against 68 per cent.
The Bulldogs’ outside men are significant threats to Cronulla in this match. Josh Morris, Luke Patten and former Shark Bryson Goodwin will need to be marked closely. Goodwin and Morris lead the way for the Bulldogs in line-breaks with three apiece, while Morris has three try assists.
But the outside men can also become liabilities in defence, with Morris and goalkicking sharpshooter Hazem El Masri sometimes struggling to put their opposition to ground – Morris has struggled on occasions in defence with seven missed tackles for an effective-tackle percentage of 82.4 while El Masri has made less tackles but still missed four for an effectiveness of 78.3 per cent.
For the Sharks, look for rookie centre Blake Ferguson to be targeted as he has missed 11 tackles in three games this season for a tackle-completion rate of 80 per cent.
Where it will be won: Both sides can defend stoutly but it will be attack that wins the day. Whichever playmaker can best deliver quality passes to his outside backs and create openings will guide their side to victory.
Look for Brett Kimmorley (one try, one line-break assist and 24 kicks) and Trent Barrett if selected (two tries, one try assist and 24 runs) to have a big influence.
The History: Played 79; Bulldogs 48, Sharks 29, drawn 2. In last year’s only clash, the Bulldogs prevailed at ANZ Stadium in Round 11’s Monday Night Football. The Bulldogs won 30-22 and the clash featured Greg Bird and Sonny Bill Williams. How times change...
Conclusion: Expect a tight battle between a Cronulla team strong on defence and a new Bulldogs outfit, featuring numerous off-season recruits, still finding its feet.
With torrential rain predicted in Sydney in the days leading to kick-off, whoever respects the ball most in this match should prevail. The first team to a few tries will win.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Ricky McFarlane & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Referee: Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 2pm (AEST).