What can you say about this battle of the beach boys that in pre-season would have loomed as a clash of the titans, rather than the prelude to who could very well be fighting to stave off the wooden spoon?
The Roosters and Sharks have both suffered giant falls from grace this year after both finished in the top four at the end of the regular season in 2008.
Injuries, suspensions, poor form and poor attitude have all but derailed the seasons of these proud clubs just eight weeks into the new footy calendar.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel – someone will be two points richer by 7.30pm this Saturday, because surely we won’t see another 90-minute draw this season!
The Roosters’ form has been patchy at best this season, but they reached a low point in their 29-0 thrashing at the hands of St George Illawarra last weekend – by full-time they had gone a full 129 minutes of football without scoring a point.
Consequently out-of-sorts coach Brad Fittler has wiped his whiteboard and started afresh this week. Gone are Mark O’Meley (knee) and Sisi Waqa (back), while Willie Mason has been brushed to the bench.
Utility back Ben Jones will start in the centres, allowing Iosia Soliola to move into Mason’s second-row spot.
Jordan Tansey, who performed well in a beaten side last weekend, will start at fullback – pushing the in-form Sam Perrett back to the wing.
Meanwhile, while Sharks’ inexperienced line-up is improving, they missed a golden opportunity to boost club morale last Friday against a lackluster South Sydney.
Ricky Stuart has named an unchanged line-up, including inspirational captain Paul Gallen who is likely to miss the match through suspension – and his presence is as crucial to Cronulla as Joey was to Newcastle, Mick Crocker was at Melbourne and Brett Stewart now is to Manly.
Aside from missing Gal’s 120 metres and 30 tackles a game, the Sharks go into the clash without a leader in the forward pack. In a game that is likely going to be decided by the big men up front, that loss will be felt hard by Ricky Stuart.
Watch out Sharks: The biggest threat to the Sharks this weekend is… the Sharks themselves. Cronulla have allowed 10 tries through the middle – the worst of any team in the NRL, and 14 tries have come from within 10 metres, second worst in the NRL. They need to tighten their defence, in particular their goal-line defence, if they are to win this game.
The biggest bonus here for Cronulla is that the Roosters have scored just twice down the centre of the park – less than everyone in the comp, except for Parramatta.
Roosters fullback Jordan Tansey came on to replace the injured Sisi Waqa early in the ANZAC Day match last weekend and impressed with a number of nice touches – the Englishman ran for 100 metres and popped two offloads in an effort to spark the Roosters’ attack. He will be better for the experience and will be one player the Sharks will need to keep an eye on.
Watch out Roosters: Similarly, the Roosters have been their own worst enemy in 2009, with their lack of creativity and reluctance to roll the sleeves up ensuring that they lose games, rather than force their opponents to win them.
The Roosters (21) have made the second-fewest line breaks in the NRL, and also the second-fewest half-breaks (8) and third-fewest tackle breaks (188). This means two things: they aren’t running the right angles, and they don’t have the physical presence to intimidate defences.
Willie Mason is potentially one of the hardest players to bring down in the competition, and at his peak at the Bulldogs in 2001/2002 he had 26 line breaks in two seasons. In 2009 he has just the one, and amazingly just 12 tackle breaks – ranking him at 105th in the competition.
You really do wonder where the Sharks’ tries will come from however, but they will be encouraged by the kicking game of halfback Brett Seymour, who has laid on three tries from kicks this year – look to wingers Luke Covell and David Simmons to receive plenty of chances from the boot of Seymour.
Where it will be won: Both teams have been severely let down by their forwards in the opening rounds. The Sharks (1167 metres) and the Roosters (1158 metres) have made less territory per match than any other team in the competition – a glaring statistic that should be stuck to the locker of every forward due to take the field this weekend.
With attacking weapons clearly lacking on both sides of the field here, this match is destined to be a war of attrition. Whoever wins the arm wrestle in the middle of the park should do well enough to fall across the try line once or twice as well. Believe it or not, scoring three tries could be enough for victory in this one.
The History: Played 76, Roosters 51, Sharks 24, drawn 1. Historically, the Roosters have dominated these clashes. But they also look to Toyota Stadium as a happy hunting ground, losing just 13 times from 36 games there. Cronulla won the last match between these two 20-0, but the Roosters won the five games prior to that shut-out.
Conclusion: If the big guns fire, the Roosters will win, especially if Gallen is unsuccessful in contesting his charge. However, neither team has shown that they can close out a win this year, and the Roosters have fallen away in the final 20 minutes of their matches – so if the Sharks are within 10 coming into the final quarter of the game, they could pull off an upset.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger, Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Mohamad Fajajo & David Abood; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats