Sharks v Wests Tigers Preview

Sharks v Wests Tigers
Sunday, 2pm AEST
Toyota Stadium

The Wests Tigers need to win three more games to be assured of a finals spot, and this game should merely be a hump for one of the game’s most electric attacking outfits.

However, the Sharks will be doing everything they can to upset the September-bound team when they meet at Toyota Stadium on Sunday. Decimated by injury and badly behaving players this season, Cronulla are barely hanging on.

But they are not a team without passion and pride, and the Tigers need to be aware of complacency heading into this game.

They will be upsetting their entire structure with the introduction of a brand new halfback in 19-year-old Robert Lui. Shannon Gallant’s injury has forced Tim Moltzen back to fullback and instead of slotting John Morris into the no.7 jersey, coach Tim Sheens has elected to debut the youngster.

At least Lui will recognize the players opposite him – the Sharks have a couple of their own Toyota Cup players running out, and may be able to provide Ricky Stuart with some background on the unknown no.7.

Watch out Sharks: Even the determined Cronulla defence will not be able to curtail the Wests Tigers’ potent attack. The Tigers are currently averaging five line breaks per game, the third best in the NRL.

Most of those are coming through barnstorming winger Taniela Tuiaki, who has reached another level in his game this year. He has made 22 line breaks and scored 18 tries. Down his left side the Tigers are punishing – with 36 tries for the season.

In defence the Sharks have conceded 31 tries down Tuiaki’s edge, so defence must muscle up – literally! Tuiaki’s 105-kilogram frame has proved near-impossible to take down by any opposition this year. Benji Marshall loves sending the ball out to his behemoth back, and Lui will no doubt be directed to do the same. As the Tigers march on towards the finals, Tuiaki is becoming more devastating.

Watch out Wests Tigers: At this point of the season, introducing a new halfback has the potential to disrupt their momentum and the Sharks will be doing everything they can to intimidate and unsettle the debutant.

Despite injuries, Cronulla still have many enforcers, like Paul Gallen, Kade Snowden and Grant Millington. If the Sharks are to spring an upset it is these players who will be leading it.

While the Tigers are finally shedding the image of having a light and undermanned forward pack – thanks largely to English back-rower Gareth Ellis – the Sharks are still packing some punch.

While their players may not be known for having more athleticism or ball-playing skill, Snowden in particular has been a standout while the Sharks stumble to more losses.

The Sharks are eighth in the NRL for metres conceded, showing some signs of holding on to the brutal defence that typified their 2008 season. They will need it against the Tigers, as they cannot rely on out-scoring the seventh-placed side.

Where it will be won:
This game hinges on the Wests Tigers’ attack and Cronulla’s defence. The Sharks average just 15 points a game – the lowest in the NRL – so their defence is the only way they can cause an upset.

If it is not up to scratch the only question about this match is how many the Tigers can win by.

The Tigers showed against Manly two weeks ago how damaging they can be in broken play, with two tries coming from plays started deep within their own half following poor options by Manly. Their ability to switch from defence to attacking play is unmatched, and Cronulla’s scramble defence must be on target.

The history: The Wests Tigers have an excellent record over the Sharks – even at Toyota Stadium. They have won 11 of 15, Cronulla five and drawn one. At Toyota the Tigers have won five of eight, Sharks two and drawn one.

Conclusion: Toyota Stadium holds great memories for the Tigers, including a memorable day in 2005 when Marshall announced his arrival as a superstar of the game on the way to a premiership.

Is this history repeating? The Tigers are similarly making the most of their attacking prowess but with a new halfback coming in, must be at their best to get past a team they are expected to beat with ease.

Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm Sunday, AEST.

* Statistics: NRL Stats