Sea Eagles v Sharks Preview

Sea Eagles v Sharks
Brookvale Oval
Sunday 2pm

The seaside derby heats up at a “new” Brookvale Oval – complete with modern stadium facilities – this Sunday afternoon as resurgent Manly look to continue momentum against a Cronulla side looking for continued impetus of their own.

Manly fans can finally stop whingeing about the poor calls in their Round 2 loss to Parramatta, after they received plenty of benefit of the doubt to get away with victory over the Warriors last weekend, while the Sharks surprised everybody to rumble over the Eels and snap a 13-match losing streak.

With both teams coming off wins, the time is now to feed off the confidence boosts, with both coaches acutely aware a victory against their intense rivals will spike morale to new heights.

The Sea Eagles and Sharks have produced plenty of mongrel in their past matches and the forwards in both sides should be fired up to inflict as much (legal) damage as possible.

The home side Sea Eagles have moved up to seventh on the NRL ladder, thanks to back-to-back wins, and have the added advantage of the Brookvale hoodoo.

The Sharks, now 13th after beating the Eels, have a terrible record at the venue, winning just five games there. This equates to less than 15 per cent success – a bogey ground in anyone’s estimation.

Manly have named the same side from the away trip to Auckland, with Jamie Buhrer added as an 18th man, while the Sharks have only one (forced) change from the 11-0 shutout of Parramatta, with Nathan Stapleton coming onto the wing for the injured Luke Covell.

Watch out Sea Eagles: You know he’s pumped for a big game, you know he’s going to get the ball often – but can you limit the impact of Paul Gallen? Against the Eels, Gallen ran for 252 metres, had four tackle-breaks and three offloads. He also added 36 tackles for good measure in an 80-minute effort. He now averages 168 metres a match and constantly puts his hand up to take his side forward.

Manly defenders need to first try their best to dominate Gallen, but also be wary of a potential offload. If the Sharks’ lock is smart, he might just introduce some pre-line passing into his game as well – although it has resulted in errors in the past.

If the Sharks’ halves are smart, they should set Gallen up as a decoy on occasion; he’s currently getting the ball 99 times out of 100, allowing other teams to stay on him. Should they mix it, up a hole might just appear.

Watch out Sharks: Unless they improve, their poor ball control will kill them in this contest. The Sea Eagles have been very impressive in terms of limiting errors, with their season tally of 45 having them ranked third best of all teams in the NRL.

If they continue with this sort of form and consequently retain plenty of possession, the Sharks will need to follow suit.

Currently the Cronulla boys have the worst error rate in the competition, with 65 for the year – or about five more than the Sea Eagles per match. With all due respect to the Sharks, their attack isn’t firing well enough to win if they make significantly more errors than their opponents.

Where it will be won: Defence against attacking kicks could well be the crucial factor in this match.

Both sides, when on their games, are tough defensively. They tackle hard, don’t miss a lot, and have players with outstanding motors. If the game gets dour and develops into an arm wrestle, the two sides might resort to the kick for points – something they should probably do anyway considering some interesting kick defusal rates.

Cronulla’s woes at the back are well documented. Albert Kelly’s hands under the high ball seem about as safe as a house of cards in a hurricane and the Sharks’ successful bomb defusal sits at just 25 per cent. They don’t fare much better with cross-field kicks either, with just 33 per cent being navigated properly.

But Manly fans shouldn’t get too excited. When it comes to cross-field kick defusing, the Sea Eagles are the worst in the league, failing to defuse any cross-field kicks successfully. Will the introduction of Tim Smith into the line-up at Cronulla allow the Sharks to continue this misery?

The history: Played 76: Sea Eagles 52, Sharks 22, drawn 2. Manly have won five of the past eight games, including both last season. Despite winning at Brookvale Oval in 2008 and falling by just two points in 2009, the Cronulla side has a dismal record on the northern beaches winning just five of 34 matches between the teams at the venue.

Conclusion: Last week we predicted only the Sharks’ players would be brave enough to tip themselves – and low and behold they came up with the goods! Once again they will go into this match as outsiders, and once again you should probably tip their opposition – but confidence is huge in rugby league and if they can get away to a bright start against Manly they are every chance of posting a winning result.
 
The Sea Eagles will not take this mob lightly, like Parramatta appeared to do last week, and as such they should give their fans an entertaining win. But they will want to start strong and with clinical precision to ensure the path to victory is paved with tar, not loose gravel.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Dave Munro; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.