It's been tough times for Cronulla and the Warriors recently – and thankfully for their supporters last week they both bounced back with wins over the Eels and Wests Tigers respectively.
Fans of the Auckland-based club had waited five weeks for the victory (they’d previously drawn with the Storm in Round 7) while the Sharks hadn’t won since the opening week of the competition. Now they’ve bounced back but with completely consequences – the Sharks are realistically out of finals contention with just two wins from 11 matches but the Warriors are well in the hunt for the semis with 11 points.
How the Warriors perform in matches they’re expected to win, like against the struggling Sharks in Sydney, will determine if they make the finals or not.
Watch out Sharks: While the Warriors haven’t been in great form recently, there’s no doubting their ability to attack. They hit form last week with a shutout of the Wests Tigers in Auckland – but it was their attack that was most impressive. Wade McKinnon (four line-breaks, one line-break assist, three tries and one try assist) continues to improve after last year’s season-ending knee injury, while destructive winger Manu Vatuvei (five line-breaks, four tries and three try assists) always proves a handful.
With the maestro Stacey Jones (two line-breaks, one line-break assits, one try and six try assists) back in the starting side, there’s plenty of attacking strikepower the Sharks need to be aware of. Joel Moon (six line-breaks, four line-break assists, one try and two try assists) also needs to be marked closely but in defence (26 ineffective and 36 missed tackles for an effective tackle percentage of 74.7) he can be a liability.
Watch out Warriors: There’s a breath of fresh air in the new-look Sharks’ line-up. Glance over the backline and there’s not much experience – Stapleton (two games), Ferguson (nine games), Wright (four games) and Porter (one game) – so you’d assume that’s a disadvantage, right? Well after a terrible start to the year, this refreshing shake-up has the young Sharks hungry for blood.
Last week halfback Scott Porter (one try assist) led his side to victory from a beautiful kicking game that kept the opposition on the back foot. The fact Cronulla have so many rookies in their backline means they aren’t stung by past failed campaigns and the early season slump – expect them to throw caution to the wing.
Fullback Nathan Stapleton has been particularly effective at the back, averaging 150 metres per match. But there’s still some experience in the team, with Trent Barrett the focus of their attack. The Kiwi-based boys will need to be careful of ‘Baz’, who’s registered 11 line-break assists, three tries and four try assists.
Where it will be won: The Sharks and Warriors both have Origin factors that will influence the outcome of this match.
Initially selected in the NSW Blues team, Paul Gallen was ruled out due to a shoulder injury – but he’s been named in the Cronulla team which has an additional four days to prepare with Origin on Wednesday.
Warriors captain Steve Price will propel Queensland forward in the state battle as one of the cane toads’ starting props. Both Gallen, the tough-as-nails back-rower, and Price are vitally important to their teams. Gallen, who handed in his club captaincy this week, averages 142 metres per game while Price averages 146 metres a match. Whoever makes it onto the field – and whoever’s in the best shape – should lead their side to victory.
The History: Played 23; Sharks 12, Warriors 11. Last year the honours between the sides were shared, with Cronulla 24-8 winners at home before crossing the Tasman and suffering an 18-4 defeat against the Warriors later in the season.
Conclusion: A young Cronulla side, possible without inspirational former captain Paul Gallen, should find it difficult to deal with the Warriors’ attacking excellence. Expect the away team to win... and possibly in a canter if Price plays and their form from last week continues.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer and Matt Cecchin; Sideline officials – Paul Holland and Mohamad Fajajo; Video ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 2pm.
* Stats: NRL Stats.