On the face of it, this match’s result should be a given. The Titans are flying high and destined for their first finals series, while the Sharks have bottomed out in 2009 and are struggling to avoid the wooden spoon.
At home, the Gold Coast should have a significant advantage – especially against the depleted Sharks missing Trent Barrett, Ben Ross and Brett Kearney, to name but a few. However, last week the Raiders upset the top-of-the-table Dragons and showed just how tight the 2009 NRL competition is. Could the Sharks, battling with the Roosters to sidestep the spoon, give the Titans a huge fright on Sunday? It looks unlikely, but stranger things have happened... less than a week ago!
Unfortunately the Titans lose some continuity and strike-power with the suspension of fullback William Zillman, who was outed for four weeks at the judiciary midweek after he was found guilty of biting Souths’ winger Jamie Simpson in their clash last round.
With Preston Campbell in doubt it presents huge problems for John Cartwright, who may be forced to fashion a back three from Kevin Gordon, David Mead and Chris Walker, who had a very public falling out with the club and CEO Michael Searle during the week.Watch out Titans: John Cartwright’s biggest danger in this match is his side bringing a complacent attitude to game day. Sure, the Sharks are struggling with just five wins for the season... but they still have a few potential match-winners in their side.
Only a year ago back-rowers Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou (with the Roosters) were preparing for their own team’s assault on the premiership... now they are battling to climb off the bottom of the table.
Gallen (13 matches with an average of 133 metres gained, plus five line breaks, five line-break assists and five tries) and Tupou (13 matches with an average of 82 metres gained, plus 11 line breaks, two line-break assists, six tries and three try assists) have had limited game-time this season due to injuries – but they will wreak havoc if the Titans fail to apply defensive pressure.
The Sharks’ back row, with in-form Grant Millington (14 games with an average of 63 metres gained, plus four line breaks and three tries) the other member, is the key to any hope Cronulla fans have in this one.
Watch out Sharks: The Titans possess experience in key areas across the park – and their old heads will know now’s the time to consolidate on their early season form and add polish to their game in time for finals. They did enough to win their last-round clash against the Rabbitohs in Sydney, and now is the time to ramp up the effort.
Mat Rogers (eight line breaks, nine line-break assists, nine tries and six try assists), Scott Prince (five line breaks, 15 line-break assists, five tries and 20 try assists), Preston Campbell (seven line breaks, nine line-break assists, three tries and 13 try assists) and Luke Bailey (averaging 140 metres a match) know they were brought to the club to lead it to the finals. They are now in a position to challenge for the title – with the side guaranteed a home final – and the quartet will be relied on to keep the young charges cool and deliver the knockout blows in pressure situations.
The Sharks will know the Titans aren’t just focussed on the match ahead, but the finals too, and they will offer a massive challenge for Cronulla’s inexperienced line-up. This is the time for fine-tuning, and the Sharks are the guinea pigs.
Where it will be won: Look no further than the beefy guys in the middle of the park. Whichever team wins on the day will have more room provided for their halves to scheme and create panic in the opposition.
For the Sharks, Gallen and Tupou will look to bring a sense of calm to an inexperienced bench featuring Tim Weyman (Dragon Mick’s brother) and Lancen Joudo. Alongside bookends Luke Douglas and Kade Snowden, ‘Gal’ and ‘Toops’ will be operating closer to the centre of the field than usual, with the lack of experience substitutions in the match will bring. For the Titans ‘Bull’ Bailey will be aiming to set the standard. Accompanied by Michael Henderson and Matt White, Bull will be looking the trample the guts of the Sharks’ defence, providing space for Campbell and Prince to operate. Expect it to happen – the Sharks are very much down on troops.
The history: Played 4; Titans 2, Sharks 2. The Titans hold a 1-0 advantage in games at Skilled Park.
Conclusion: The Sharks’ efforts, despite their horror season featuring off-field dramas and a woeful run with injuries, have been admirable, but the Titans have too much to play for in this game.
This is somewhat of a warm-up game before the finals for Carty’s men... but expect them to dominate nonetheless. A win to the home side by 13+ could very well be on the cards.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons and Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Mohamad Fajajo and Phil Haines; Video Referee – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.