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Sharks v Broncos
Toyota Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

Can the Sharks be turning a corner? Or can the Broncos actually defy the critics and continue their incredible finals football run? Well, if either side is to be around deep into September, they really must win this game.

It’s been a big week for the Sharks. For starters, they won another game – something they have been struggling to do. But then they found out coach Ricky Stuart will depart at season’s end, stepping aside for Shane Flanagan to take the reins.

It can be both good and bad for their 2010 campaign, depending how you look at it. The players know where they stand with Ricky, but when their current assistant coach gets the top job, things might be different. With this is mind, perhaps a few might lift a notch or two.

On the other side of the coin, the distraction of the change could cause a lack of focus as players think ahead to next year instead of the current one. How long will Ricky stay? The whole year? Brian Smith didn’t get through the year at Newcastle last season as pressure built… if the Sharks lose more games, will a push come for an early changeover? Stuart has signalled his intention to stay but these things are always ticking time bombs… uncertainty isn’t great in football clubs.

The side is unaffected by Origin (with the exception of Flanagan, who has been away as an assistant to the Blues) and will suit up with the same 17 that took care of the Eels last weekend.

They are still in 15th spot, but just four competition points from fifth, so a string of wins now would push them into contention.

For the Broncos, these post-Origin matches are always difficult. But this year isn’t as bad as some previous. The non-Origin players are rested from the bye and only Israel Folau, Darren Lockyer and Sam Thaiday are on show for Queensland – a far cry from the 11 players the side has contributed to interstate football in the past.

If all can back up on Saturday, the side will be very similar to the one that beat the Titans last start, which pushed the side into 10th spot and just two points off the top eight.

Ivan Henjak has named three extra reserves as cover, with Andrew McCullough, Corey Norman and Nick Kenny joining the team list. McCullough is likely to play regardless, assuming he has fully recovered from injury.

Watch out Sharks: The Broncos know how to get across the try line from close range and this is something the home side has had real problems defending so far this season.

With 21 tries from inside 10 metres in 2010, the Broncos are the third best side in the NRL at getting across the stripe from close.

Considering the Sharks have conceded 24 from the same distance, to be ranked equal last, this could be another wipe-out for them, similar to their earlier loss to the Broncos this season. Cronulla needs to muscle up on the goal line, or face a long evening.

Watch out Broncos:
Trent Barrett is primed for a big display. Overlooked for New South Wales duty despite being part of the side that won Game Three last year, Barrett would love to punch out a big performance against Maroons skipper Darren Lockyer.

He is in the veteran class these days, but he can still produce the goods on occasion and this is shaping up as one of those.

Barrett has four line-breaks, five line-break assists and four try assists so far this season but all three of those numbers could rise after this game. Don’t be surprised to see him grab his first try of the year also… might be worth a quid on first and last tryscorer markets.

Where it will be won: Defensive alignment and commitment. The Broncos belted the Sharks off the park earlier in the year, thanks mainly to simple defensive alignment. Cronulla weren’t missing a lot of tackles; they just failed to mark up correctly and failed to choose the right option in defence more often than not.

It is critical for both sides to defend better than usual if they’re to win this game. The Broncos align much better than Cronulla, but they are much less effective in actually making tackles. So far this season the Sharks have missed 328 tackles, with 191 ineffective (effective 85.8 per cent of the time) while the Broncos have missed a whopping 432 tackles with 245 others ineffective (81.7 per cent effective).

Also, the Sharks have made 325 dominant tackles – the most in the NRL – compared to the Broncos’ 195.

In short, the Broncos have to miss fewer times and the Sharks have to read the attack better. Whoever comes up with the greater improvement will be on their way to winning.

The history: Played 43; Sharks 16, Broncos 27. Brisbane hammered the Sharks in Brisbane by a record 44-16 margin earlier this season, to make it five from the past eight games against Cronulla. But at Toyota Park the Sharks hold a 11-7 winning record over the Broncos and the visitors haven’t tasted success in the Shire since 2006.

Conclusion: Assuming the Broncos’ Origin trio come through unscathed, they’ll be expected to win – but don’t write off the gutsy Sharks just yet.

With some confidence from last week they are a chance of an upset, although the coaching announcements may have been distracting in the lead up.

The Broncos… just.

Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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