Sydney Football Stadium
It might not be official but you can take it as read… the Roosters’ finals aspirations are dead and buried.
Okay, for the glass-half-full crowd, it is true they could go on a phenomenal run of victories from here to season’s end and pull off the miracle of the century; but in order to just get to a 50:50 season, with as many wins as losses, they would need to win nine out of 10 games.
Considering a 50:50 record wasn’t good enough for a finals berth last season, it is a mountain higher than Everest for the tri-colours, particularly without captain Braith Anasta.
But one attainable goal for the Roosters is to get themselves out of the wooden spoon position on the ladder, a place they currently occupy comfortably (or uncomfortably), four competition points behind the Wests Tigers, Raiders and this week’s opponents the Sharks.
As such, this match becomes uber-important as the club has steered clear of the wooden spoon since 1966.
Cronulla are arguably the form team of the NRL right now thanks to four straight victories and they are well aware if they are to provide a miracle of their own they need to stretch the streak to five against the struggling Roosters.
While finals football must seem highly improbable for the Shire boys, a win here would certainly give them some breathing space from the last rung on the ladder.
They are 14th at this stage on percentages but just four points away from the top eight, giving them a small glimmer of hope.
Paul Gallen is expected to back up after Origin. But they’ll be without Trent Barrett, who will spend a fortnight on the sidelines for his reckless high tackle on Greg Inglis.
Gallen comes in at lock pushing Anthony Tupou to second row, Luke Douglas to prop, with Johnny Mannah to the bench. Jacob Selmes is the man to miss out this week.
For the Roosters, Setaimata Sa comes in at five-eighth to replace Braith Anasta, whose horrific ankle fracture has curtailed his season.
Nate Myles, ill before Origin, will try to back up, pushing Shane Shackleton to the bench, while Willie Mason is also due back with Iosia Soliola out. Ray Moujalli and Rohan Ahern have been left out of the side, with Nick Kouparitsas coming onto the bench.
Watch out Roosters: Luke Douglas broke the Sharks’ record for most consecutive games with his 88th appearance since his debut last week; but there is much more to this forward’s game than just longevity and durability.
Seen as a representative player of the future, Douglas will be sure to create plenty of sore bodies in the Roosters’ camp with his tough charges and big tackles. He is averaging 116 metres gained a match and adds 36 tackles a game for good measure.
With the side on a roll Douglas knows he must lead the way towards what would be an amazing recovery should they get anywhere near a finals berth.
Watch out Sharks: In a season without many highlights one player who has been impressive for the Roosters is fullback Sam Perrett.
Having spent time in the centres and on the wing, Perrett is an accomplished all-round player but at fullback he has the chance to get much more heavily involved, which spells trouble for the Sharks.
He is gaining 124 metres a game and leads his side with 10 line breaks, two from kick returns. He also has two line-break assists, three try assists and four tries, numbers that will certainly improve now he is settling in at the back. He also has an ultra impressive 77 tackle breaks for the year, showcasing strength and elusive footwork.
Where it will be won: Neither team has shown a real strength in defence this season so the reality is it’s the team that takes their offensive chances which will prevail.
The Sharks showed some attacking fortitude against the Broncos last Monday night but this will need to continue if they are to push further ahead and salvage something out of the year.
The Roosters have also shown glimpses of class but was usually coming from Anasta so they are well and truly going to need to execute near perfectly.
Both sides have scored 16 tries this year from line breaks but the Roosters are doing slightly better at converting breaks to tries courtesy of the fact they have only made 50 breaks compared to the Sharks’ 57. They are converting breaks to points on 32 per cent of occasions compared to the Sharks’ 28 per cent.
But obviously the fact the Sharks have more breaks means they could potentially create more chances and improve their percentage with some good support play.
The season is just about done for the Roosters so surely they’ll throw some caution to the wind and try to score some points through instinct. If so, Mitchell Pearce might just have a blinder.
The History: Played 77; Roosters 52, Sharks 24, drawn 1. The Roosters took care of the Sharks earlier this season with a 19-12 win at Toyota Stadium which gave them six wins from the past seven against their Sydney rivals.
At the SFS the two teams have come together 16 times, with the Roosters in front 10-6. In the past four matches the total match points have fallen between 20-35 so if you fancy an exotic punt maybe look towards this statistic.
Conclusion: Everything points to a Sharks victory here. They are on a roll and the Roosters haven’t won in what feels like forever. But it is certainly not a foregone conclusion.
There is enough fight in the tri-colours roster to suggest they’ll step it up here to give themselves a chance at moving away from the wooden spoon zone and the Sharks intensity may just drop a little thinking they have it a little ‘easier’ this weekend.
A Roosters’ upset win is still an option to think about – but if you’re out in front on the tipping charts, stick with the Sharks.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Chris James; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.