Sharks v Roosters
We have played through the first third of the season and to be frank, the Roosters have been one of the biggest disappointments so far, while the Sharks have basically given us what we kind of expected.
These sides have managed just two wins in their opening eight matches, leaving them languishing 12th (Roosters) and 13th (Sharks) on the NRL ladder – a factor that makes this a crucial encounter.
Already there is a 10-point gap between these sides and the ladder-leading Dragons; the top eight is a pair of wins and some substantial differential-boosting away also.
Another loss here and the path back to finals football starts to look increasingly narrow.
The time has come for one of these combatants to make a statement – either it’s going to be a long, long year, or the finals flame can flicker a little brighter.
Both sides come in fresh off the bye, so there are no excuses of weary bodies.
The Sharks’ last start was a dismal loss to South Sydney. Nathan Gardner is a surprise dropping from the side that lost that game, with Isaac Gordon slated to play fullback. Winger John Williams is out injured with Stuart Mills the new man out wide. Anthony Tupou returns to the starting side in the back row, pushing Jayson Bukuya to the bench. Taulima Tautai and Siosaia Vave have been added to an extended bench.
For the Roosters the huge news is the return of Todd Carney after an enforced lay-off with groin and alleged mental problems. He slots in at five-eighth, pushing Braith Anasta into the second row and Frank Paul Nuuausala to lock forward.
Phil Graham is out and unknown Steve Naughton gets a chance on the wing, while last year’s grand final centre Kane Linnett is back, moving Mitchell Aubusson to the back row and Tom Symonds to the bench.
Jake Friend will start at hooker, meaning Mark Riddell finds a spot on the bench and prop Martin Kennedy is out, replaced by Nate Myles.
Daniel Conn won’t play this week, with Mose Masoe the new bench player.
Watch Out Sharks: Braith Anasta may have been shifted back to the forwards this week but he is still primed for a big role in this match. Anasta requires only five more points to become the first player in league history to score 200 for both Canterbury and the Roosters.
He has enjoyed great success playing against Cronulla, with 10 wins from 14 games including a 6-3 record at Toyota Stadium.
Fullback Anthony Minichiello has the chance at a significant milestone. With 103 tries to his name he requires only two more to become the most prolific scorer in Roosters’ history. And seven more line-breaks would see him surpass Brad Fittler’s NRL record of 134 for the Bondi club.
Danger Sign: The two above-mentioned players could combine close to the line. Watch for Anasta to run the ball to the defence and have the option of turning the ball back inside to a flying Minichiello.
Watch Out Roosters: He plays well every week but Sharks skipper Paul Gallen reserves extra special performances for the Roosters. With his potential Origin captaincy on the line also you can be sure ‘Gal’ will be pumped and primed for a massive effort. In 14 clashes against the Roosters the Australian lock averages 20.9 runs, the most by any player in statistics history.
Equally as impressive is his 160 metres and 26 tackles averages, while he needs just one more offload to equal Phil Bailey (36) for most offloads against the tri-colours.
Through Round 9, Gallen is averaging 182 metres, 25.5 tackles and has added 21 offloads (fourth in the comp).
Danger Sign: You can tell if Gallen is ‘on’ by viewing the first few sets that the Sharks have the ball. If he has more than one run in an early set, he is ready to rumble.
Plays To Watch: Tom Symonds coming on and running nice lines; Tupou, Gallen and Smith’s crafty offloads; Isaac Gordon’s acceleration; Pearce running to the line; Pearce’s try assists off left-to-right spiral passes; Carney searching for some form in his comeback game, knowing he might still be a chance for Game Two of the Origin series.
Where It Will Be Won: The Carney-Pearce influence will be the making, or the breaking, of this game.
With all due respect to Tim Smith and Wade Graham, they don’t have the same talent as the Roosters’ duo and without Gardner the Sharks’ attack is certainly much more pedestrian.
The questions around Carney and his mental state will continue right up to and even during the game. If he really is ready to return and show his best, he and Pearce can control this game and get the Roosters back on track. If his head is not quite right though, and things don’t go his way early we could see some self-destruction of confidence both for Carney and his teammates. Pearce wants another big performance to make the Blues squad… and who knows… if Carney fires he could just sneak back into the jersey that was his at the beginning of the year.
The History: Played 80; Sharks 26, Roosters 53, drawn 1. In what were both considered big shocks the Sharks upset the Roosters on two occasions last season – despite the fact the Roosters would be eventual runners-up and the Sharks also-rans. Those results mean the Cronulla boys have won three of the past five against the Roosters, although the Roosters have won five of the past eight.
At Toyota Stadium the Roosters lead the count 23-14-1. If the Sharks win it will be the first ‘three-peat’ against the Roosters since 1994-96.
In a worrying stat, Cronulla have lost their past four day games at Toyota Stadium, their longest drought since 1993.
Conclusion: Those of us putting faith in the Roosters this year have been doing so on last year’s form. They have yet to hit their straps this season, yet they still have the talent to do so at any moment.
The Sharks are a much tougher outfit this year and did win both matches last season but the lean is still to the Roosters. If they let you down here though, jump off them for a while.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gavin Morris; Touch Judges – Steve Chiddy & David Munro; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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