Sharks v Titans Preview

Sharks v Titans
Toyota Stadium
Saturday, 5.30pm

If the final home game for the retiring Luke Covell and Trent Barrett can’t bring out a gallant performance from the Sharks, then the boys from Cronulla haven’t come as far as everyone thought.

Covell has played 129 games for the club since 2005 while Barrett has played 34 games in his two seasons in the shire. Both have been true servants of the club, and the game will be the perfect chance for fans to give them a proper farewell. More importantly, however, Saturday’s match gives the Sharks’ players the chance to leave a good memory in the minds of their supporters during the off-season, as a poor performance could be the final nail in the coffin for some.

The Titans come into this game on the back of some superb recent performances. They’ve won their past five games (Dragons, Warriors, Eels, Cowboys and Roosters) with wins against some quality oppositions.

The win against the Roosters last Monday night was a tantalising game of end-to-end football, and if they can play the same in this game, the Sharks could be in for a long night.

Scott Prince was at his best last Monday, setting up two tries and keeping the Roosters guessing the whole 80 minutes, with unpredictable play and superior vision that showed everyone why he is the form halfback of the competition.

The Sharks come into this game having won just one game since coach Shane Flanagan took over from Ricky Stuart little more than a month ago, and a win now will confirm the belief of many that the team has turned the corner.

Despite losing to the Storm 24-4 in Melbourne last weekend, there were positive signs to take out of the game. Despite the Storm having plenty of possession, Cronulla managed to keep them to 4-0 at halftime, defending their line with great energy. But a lapse of concentration in the second half and a number of turnovers allowed the Storm to take control. To give themselves a chance against the Titans, the players will need to defend like they did in the first half of last week’s game, but for the full 80 minutes.

And while there’s no sugar-coating how disappointing the Sharks have been this season, there are some good signs for the team, most notably the form of Nathan Gardner. Both Flanagan and Stuart have been raving about the young fullback all season, and he’ll be an important factor in this game.

Watch out Sharks: Scott Prince is the key man in his side’s attack, and how he plays will be a defining factor in the Titans’ chances of victory.

As mentioned above, Prince showed great creativity against the Roosters, and his unpredictability means he will constantly have the opposition in two minds. He has 21 try assists this season – the second most of any player in the competition – and has 15 line-break assists as well.

Whether spreading the ball through the hands or using the boot, you can bet that Prince will be a handful for the entire game.

Watch out Titans: While the line about there being ‘plenty to play for’ is brought out quite often – perhaps too often – it’s certainly the case in this game with Barrett and Covell.

For a team which has had little to cheer about all season, it would be a mistake to underestimate the motivation the players will have to give the retiring players one last win in front of the faithful.
 
Barrett has been one of Cronulla’s most committed and energetic players all year, particularly in defence, and he’ll no doubt match those levels for this match. Barrett had four try assists in the Round 21 game against the Tigers, and has shown patches of his ball-running best during the past few games. In his home-game swansong, he’ll be one the Titans will be wary of.

Where it will be won: In the handling department. Both sides have far from impressive error rates, with the Sharks and Titans making 12.7 and 12.1 errors per game respectively, putting them in the bottom half of teams in that area.

Last week showed that the Sharks would be a competitive side with better handling, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Scott Prince, Mat Rogers, and Preston Campbell could do with more time in possession.

The history: Played 5; Titans 3, Sharks 2. The Sharks have won both games played at Toyota Stadium, winning by a margin of 16 points in both matches.

In what could prove to be an omen, Luke Covell was the star of the show the last time the Titans played in Cronulla, scoring two tries and kicking five goals to rack up a personal tally of 18 points.

Conclusion: It’s always dangerous in a game like this when one team’s season is over while the other is cruising to a guaranteed finals spot, and the Titans will need to make sure their heads are screwed on right otherwise the Sharks could surprise them.

But as much as the Sharks have the motivation to win this one, it’s pretty tough to tip against the Titans.

The Sharks are a chance, but the points are for the taking if the Titans play even half as well as they have during the past few weeks. Betting on the Sharks with the margin could be a good option.

Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Ricky McFarlane & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.