Just a couple of weeks ago the Rabbitohs were struggling after a dismal performance against the Panthers. They lost 40-10 and with that loss went their finals chances. Fast-forward one week and the Rabbitohs put in a massive effort to upset the competition-leading Dragons 41-6.
The Sharks similarly have no chance of making the finals following a disappointing and injury-plagued season, but have put in massive efforts against the Titans and Sea Eagles in recent weeks, going down by narrow margins. This clash, featuring the farewells of several players, might just be one of the meetings of the round – with both teams nearing top form.
Watch out Sharks: The Rabbitohs’ 35-point last-start victory came off the back of some outstanding play from in-form halves John Sutton and Chris Sandow – the Sharks need to pay particular attention to the playmakers.
Five-eighth Sutton (eight line breaks, 20 line-break assists, five tries and 24 try assists) is the ace up the Rabbitohs’ sleeve, with a particularly dangerous passing game that was highlighted against the Dragons. Scheming halfback Sandow (two line breaks, nine line-break assists, three tries and 13 try assists) usually is indicative of the South Sydney mentality – if he’s alert and on his game so too is the team. And if the Sharks can shut down him – and Sutton – they’ll go a long way to stopping any South Sydney momentum.
Watch out Rabbitohs: The Sharks’ controversial loss last week to the Sea Eagles would have them hungry for a result. In that last match, where Manly scored in the dying minutes to win, prop forward Luke Douglas was sent off for a high tackle – something referees’ boss Robert Finch admits was a wrong decision.
The Sharks will be eager for “revenge” – and their sixth victory of the season. So far in 2009 Cronulla have competed ferociously in matches – but a lack of experience in their team due to injury, suspension and departure (Fraser Anderson and Reni Maitua have left this season) has played its part.
The Rabbitohs will need to arrive in the Shire ready for a fight – the Sharks aren’t a team to give up. While the Sharks are missing a large percentage of their big names – Brett Kearney, Ben Ross and Trent Barrett are just a few sidelined – they still have the services of Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou. Gallen, in particular, is known for his fighting qualities and will need to be nullified for the Rabbitohs to gain the ascendency.
Where it will be won: The halves have a big battle on their hands. Last start the Rabbitohs’ no.6 and no.7 clicked – and they led their side to an impressive victory against one of the NRL’s strongest teams.
If they continue that form on Saturday the home side will have a massive battle on their hands.
Conversely Cronulla will rely on the inexperienced pairing of Scott Porter and Blake Green to provide their attacking direction. Porter (one line break, five line-break assists and 10 try assists) has had an impressive debut season but his form has lulled since Trent Barrett’s injury. NSW Cup regular Green (one line break, three line-break assists, one try and two try assists) will need to offer an effective foil for Porter if the Sharks’ outside men – like Pomeroy, Ferguson and Covell – are to be any chance of offering the Rabbitohs a challenge.
The history: Played 73; Sharks 39, Rabbitohs 31, drawn 3. The Rabbitohs have won five of the past eight, including a 32-26 win in Round 7. At Toyota Stadium the Sharks hold a commanding 25-9 advantage, with one draw.
Conclusion: It’s the battle of some of 2009’s disappointments – but they might just be the in-form teams this round. Expect the Rabbitohs to win... but the Sharks are also a big chance.
Be sure to pay particular attention to Sharks hooker Corey Hughes and Rabbitohs utility Craig Wing (if he passes a fitness test on his injured hamstring) – they’re playing their last match in the NRL.
Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Peter Kirby; Video Referee – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 9.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.