You might think match number 80 between these two clubs looms as far from an appetising affair, but you would be wrong – especially considering the lowly Sharks have come out and declared they can smash the Roosters just like they did earlier this year.
And revenge is certainly on the Roosters’ minds – almost as much as just getting back to winning ways following a hard-fought loss to the table-topping Dragons last weekend.
The Sharks were dismal against the Warriors last weekend – close to embarrassing actually – in a match many believe was their best shot at getting another crack at their victory song in 2010.
Now, after some stern and honest words from coach Shane Flanagan, they must turn it around against a Roosters side ready for blood.
The tri-colours were valiant against the Dragons, hanging in the match and almost stealing it at the death before being over-run. With the loss seeing them ranked third, but equal on points with second through fifth, they know a vital top-two spot – and even a top-four spot – is still on the line.
Top four guarantees a home final but top two guarantees a second bite of the cherry should you lose in week one of the finals – a prize certainly worth shooting for.
A win could rank them second; amazingly a loss could see them finish the weekend all the way down in eighth spot on the ladder, such is the logjam and importance of differential.
The home-side Sharks will be wearing a special strip in support of ‘Awareness of Mens Cancer’ in the Call To Arms Round. The only change from last week sees halfback Scott Porter out and Tim Smith coming in.
The match will be Luke Covell’s 150th NRL game in a week where the winger announced he would retire at season’s end.
For the Roosters, centre Kane Linnett is gone for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury, but they hope to welcome back Mitch Aubusson who has been named to take Linnett’s place.
Joseph Leilua and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are also out hurt, with their places on the bench taken by Martin Kennedy and Lopini Paea. There is also a positional change in the side with Daniel Conn playing prop and Nate Myles reverting to the second row.
Watch out Sharks: While plenty of praise has been heaped on Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce throughout the Rooster revival, and rightfully so, another man deserving of massive credit as he returns to top form is Anthony Minichiello.
The former Golden Boot winner as best player in the world, Minichiello has been showing some vintage touches and is now just one try away from 100 career four-pointers. He has pumped up his metres-gained average per match to 112 – and it’s still rising – while he has also added eight line-breaks, five line-break assists, four try assists and 10 tries.
Once one of the game’s best tackle-busters, he has once again found his bouncing-about mojo and has 64 tackle busts.
Special mention here in this regard to winger Sam Perrett, who has 102 tackle busts for the year. Perrett has 1280 metres gained from just dummy-half runs alone, which is more than every hooker in the game apart from Issac Luke.
Watch out Roosters: It appears the only way the Sharks might upset the Roosters’ newfound discipline and attacking flair might be through second-phase play and offloads – and plenty of them.
Behind just Parramatta for offloads per game the Sharks’ forwards, particularly Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou, know how to get the ball away. In regards to Gallen, one wonders if he has an actual motor under his shirt. He basically lifts his team onto his back and says “follow me” – but alas, can’t get much support.
Gallen has more hit-ups of 10 metres or more than anyone in the NRL (292) but he still can’t find that elusive line-break. Word is the side might eventually pull a trick play from a scrum with Gallen at the centre of it, just so he doesn’t end up with Martin Lang’s record of most runs without a break.
Where it will be won: In the second half. Chances are the Roosters might start a little flat after such a brutal and energy-sapping game against the Dragons but should they just stay in the contest or as is likely to be the case, lead by a relatively small margin at the break, they will have the basis to get some flair going in the back end.
This is, of course, providing they can stay mentally focussed enough, and bypass the fatigue thoughts. The Sharks are dogged enough when they want to be and after last week’s dismal performance should start strong in retaliation. But holding their intensity for 80 minutes has been a massive problem.
The Roosters have proven in recent times they can snatch a win at the death and almost did it again against the Dragons despite being outplayed most of the day. One gets the feeling though this match will be scratchy early but one side will come home strong and get the job done relatively easy – it’s a 90 per cent chance this side will be the Roosters.
The history: Played 79; Sharks 25, Roosters 53, drawn 1. Cronulla surprised just about everyone when they spanked the Roosters earlier this season 42-18 but it still represents just a small ripple in their recent history.
The Roosters have won six of the past eight against the Sharks and five of the past eight night time matches played at Toyota Stadium.
Overall at the venue the Roosters hold a 23-13-1 record over the home side. If the Roosters’ machine clicks into gear and the Sharks play like last week, the record winning margin of 34 could be in trouble.
Conclusion: You have to tip the Roosters here unless you are desperate. The Sharks proved last weekend just why they are down the bottom end of the ladder in 2010 and while it’s not impossible for them to win, it’s not the game you should be banking on if you need an upset.
Brian Smith will be ramming home the importance of bouncing back at this time of the year and the mature Roosters should respond.
Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 9.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.