Sharks v Eels Preview

Sharks v Eels
Toyota Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

Sharkies: (clap, clap, clap); Sharkies: (clap, clap, clap); Sharkies: (clap, clap, clap). What? Well, we have to try something to get this side out of the worst losing streak in their history before it enters the realm of top-10 of all time!

Okay Eels fans, don’t get uptight – Parra: (clap, clap, clap) – there, all is balanced and even in this world.

But alas, all is not balanced and even. The Cronulla boys, while battling hard and doing their best, just don’t seem to be able to find a way to win matches.

It’s almost heartbreaking to watch, because this is not a side disinterested. It is not a side unprepared to tackle. This is a side busting its butt but still coming up empty.

With three losses to open the season, the Sharks are the only winless side and of course sit in last place. They have extended their losing streak to 13 matches from last year – a club record – while two more would have them enter the top-10 list of all-time worst streaks.

Thankfully they are a long way off becoming number one in this area; this ‘honour’ goes to University, who lost 42 consecutive games between 1934 and 1936. (One gets the impression the night out following the breakthrough win for the University boys would have been massive!)

But the beauty of rugby league is you don’t have to wait long to try to atone and five days after last Monday’s loss to the Rabbitohs, the Sharks get a crack at the Eels.

Sadly centre Dean Collis is out, not long after he debuted for this season, giving Ben Pomeroy a reprieve in the top grade.

But the biggest team news is the inclusion of Tim Smith. Having signed from the Queensland Cup this week the 2005 Rookie of the Year joins the Sharks ready to take down his former NRL club.

His inclusion sees John Morris head back to hooker and Paul Aiton hit the bench.

Stuart Flanagan has also been left out of the side, with another former Eel in Taulima Tautai added as 18th man.

Parramatta comes into the contest after being rumbled by the Wests Tigers last Friday night.

Last season’s runners-up haven’t hit full flight as yet and are sitting in 11th spot but this is one match they will be banking on winning.

They get Daniel Mortimer back from illness, which sees Kris Keating shift back to the bench.

Skipper Nathan Cayless leads the side for the 200th time, the first player to captain one side for a double ton; and he has Brad Fittler’s all time captaincy mark of 216 games in his sights.

Watch out Sharks:
You know it’s coming. The bombing raid has already been foretold and there isn’t much you can do to stop it, you just need a new way to defuse it. Young Albert Kelly had a horror night at fullback under the high ball last week and the test won’t get any easier as Jarryd Hayne launches his sky-scraping torpedo bombs.

The Sharks have successfully defused just 14 per cent of bombs in the opening rounds – yep, just 14 per cent, making it an obvious ploy to use against them. Add to this the fact they are defusing just 33 per cent of cross-field kicks as well and you know you can roll the dice with the odds in your favour.

While the side has scrambled well enough to allow just one try from a kick, the repeat sets from the errors is yielding points for opponents.

Watch out Eels:
He’s back! Little Timmy Smith returns to the NRL after a stint in England and some early time in the Queensland Cup this year.

Having left the Eels following revelations of his bipolar disorder, Smith hasn’t tasted first grade since. While it would take an almighty messiah to turn around the Sharks’ attack in one week, Smith does add some unpredictability, a great cut-out pass, a clever kicking game and the confidence to try things to the pedestrian-looking Sharks.

In his best years at the Eels, Smith was a try-assist king – so hopefully he can return to the form of yesteryear.

Where it will be won: Goal-line defence. The Sharks are always gritty and try hard but if they are to contain the Eels they must find a way to wall-up their goal-line defence. Almost 85 per cent of the tries scored against them this season (that is 11 of 13) have come from inside 10 metres out, which is a worrying trend and ranks them last in the NRL.

It shows firstly the side isn’t scrambling well off their line and it also shows the side is allowing the opposition prime field position.

While the Sharks’ goal-line defence has been close to abysmal, the Eels haven’t had it all their own way, either. For Parramatta, seven of 11 tries conceded have been from close range, or 64 per cent of their tries, which ranks them third last in the NRL.

They to need to come up with a way to muscle up, or the thought of going one better than last year will quickly evaporate.

The History:
Played 71; Sharks 37, Eels 34. These two teams have been pretty evenly matched over the years and have split the past eight matches four apiece – although the Sharks have three of the past four.
The last time the two teams met at Toyota Stadium the Eels won 30-0 but the Sharks have an 18-13 advantage at the venue.

Those Cronulla fans worried about the Sharks setting more poor records can take solace from the fact the biggest loss against the Eels was a 74-4 effort in 2003 – surely that won’t be ‘bettered’?

Conclusion: These days the only people brave enough to tip the Sharks are the players themselves. But maybe the introduction of Tim Smith could be the lift the side needs.

The smart money is on the Eels but if they are complacent they could find themselves falling further own the ladder.

If he is switched on, this is a game Jarryd Hayne might just tear to shreds.

Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.