Sharks v Rabbitohs Preview

Sharks v Rabbitohs
Toyota Stadium
Monday 7pm

It is ‘Diamond Jubilee’ time between these two clubs as they come together for the 75th time – but so far in 2010 both clubs have thrown up more rocks than diamonds.

Round 3 action finishes with a battle of the cellar dwellers, as the 14th-placed Cronulla, now on a club record 12-match losing streak, and the 16th-placed South Sydney come together in the Shire.

Neither team has managed a win in the opening two weeks and barring an unlikely draw the loser could conceivably be alone at the foot of the ladder.

The Sharks are offering discounts to patrons if you bring a ‘Monday mate’ – something they might be forced to continue if the side cannot come up with some decent form soon.

Coach Ricky Stuart has wielded the axe to the side that has lost to Melbourne and the Warriors, hoping to spark something before it’s too late.

Ben Pomeroy has been dumped from centre, with fullback Nathan Stapleton moving into his place, and Albert Kelly starts in the no.1 jersey.

Isaac Gordon has been dumped from the wing, with Blake Ferguson shifting out wide from the centres, which allows new recruit Dean Collis to start in the no.4.

Halfback Scott Porter has also been relegated, with John Morris moving from hooker to half and Paul Aiton starting at dummy-half. Stuart Flanagan and Siosaia Vave are the new men on the bench.

The Rabbitohs have been a major disappointment in back-to-back losses to the Roosters and Titans. While they were a little unlucky to go down in golden point last weekend, their defence has been ordinary at best and they must lift if they are going to be around come finals time.

Coach John Lang, under scrutiny thanks to his interchange philosophy, has kept a similar side although Colin Best returns at centre for Junior Vaivai.

Watch out Sharks:
The Rabbitohs look set to dominate field position if average metres are anything to go by.

An average 989 metres gained a match just isn’t going to cut it in 2010 – and this is what the Sharks are operating at from their opening two matches.

The Bunnies are up at 1382 metres gained a match, a massive difference in anyone’s language. With each team struggling in kick metres (Souths average 439 metres, Cronulla average 450 metres), the Sharks must lift with ball in hand or they will be belted.

So far, only Paul Gallen is averaging over 100 metres a match (131 metres a game) and his nearest team-mate this week is Adam Cuthbertson, who has gained just 85 metres a game from the bench. It’s simply not good enough to compete in the NRL.

South Sydney, on the other hand, has seven players averaging triple-figure metres: Rhys Wesser (146 metres), Fetuli Talanoa (118 metres), Luke Stuart (116 metres), Dave Taylor (115 metres), Sam Burgess (115 metres), Nathan Merritt (107 metres) and Issac Luke (105 metres).

Watch out Rabbitohs: The Sharks’ attack has nothing to lose after being so dismal for so long and as such will look to fully exploit any weakness in the South Sydney line-up.
 
With it plainly obvious the South Sydney pack lacks 80-minute players, the Sharks will look to work over individuals and get them tired. Issac Luke is yet to become an 80-minute hooker, forcing Jason Clark to play time at dummy-half, and he is much less of a threat.

Since the Bunnies have conceded three tries from over halfway already, the Sharks should throw caution to the wind on occasion to catch the Rabbitohs out.

They should also head right, as six of nine tries against South Sydney have come on the right side.

Where it will be won:
Defence will be crucial. Both teams have been ordinary in attack and need more time to hit their straps. This makes it paramount to work hard and defend well.

South Sydney has been abysmal defensively in the opening rounds, missing an NRL-high 96 tackles and having an NRL-high 55 ineffective tackles, leaving them ineffective 20.4 per cent of occasions. An NRL side cannot afford to be ineffective in two out of every 10 tackles and expect to win.

Their main culprits are Issac Luke (16 misses, 9 ineffective), Chris Sandow (11 misses, 1 ineffective), Beau Champion (9 misses, 4 ineffective) and Dave Taylor (8 misses, 3 ineffective).

The Sharks run at 15 per cent ineffective so far, with 75 missed tackles and 38 ineffective tackles. They need improvement from Anthony Tupou (7 misses, 10 ineffective), Albert Kelly (7 misses) and Luke Covell (6 misses, 3 ineffective) while problem defenders Scott Porter (9 misses, 6 ineffective) and Ben Pomeroy (6 misses, 1 ineffective) have been dumped.

The home side really needs to muscle up at the goal line, with seven of eight tries conceded this year coming from within 10 metres.

The history:
Played 74; Sharks 39, Rabbitohs 32, drawn 3. Match 75 between these two proud clubs comes at Toyota Stadium, where the Sharks have won 25 of 36 matches between the clubs with 10 losses and a draw.

The Bunnies have won five of the past eight at all venues. In 2007, Souths won both matches; in 2008 the Sharks won both; while last season both went to the Rabbitohs again. Does this mean it’s the Sharks’ year?

Conclusion:
The Rabbitohs are a better side on paper – but this hasn’t helped them thus far this season and if they don’t lift exceptionally in defence they could be on the scrap heap before things have really started.

If they can improve their defence a little they should have too much firepower for the toothless Sharks, who lack game-breakers.

One thing about Cronulla though, they fight hard, and put in effort for their coach; this will certainly be the case now Ricky has shown his axing hand at work.

Expect the Sharks to come out hard… but if they can’t crack the Rabbitohs for points, South Sydney should pull away.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.