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Sharks v Wests Tigers
Toyota Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

It might not look like the most exciting or even most telling match of the last round, but it does have finals significance and therefore deserves more than a passing glance.
The Sharks might be out of the race in 2011 but the Wests Tigers are very likely going to need to win this game to finish fourth and grab the ‘home’ final that goes with it. 

It ensures they’ll be out to continue their momentum; while they are fourth now, a loss could see them drop down as many as two spots to sixth, a position no-one has won the competition from since the McIntyre finals system was implemented.

After disposing of the Titans on Monday night without much hassle the Wests Tigers have now won seven in a row and are looking to equal their club record of eight. 

But it isn’t just about the Wests Tigers. It is also a significant night for inspirational Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen, as it is his 200th NRL match and his last chance to push for the Dally M Medal. He will become the eighth player in Cronulla history to reach the milestone and this alone should see the Sharkie Army out in force. 

The good news for Shire fans is other results last weekend ensured they cannot be left holding the wooden spoon – barring some silly interchange mix-up, or major salary cap revelation!

After falling late to the Cowboys last week to notch loss number 16, their seventh in a row, the 13th-placed Sharks have named Dean Collis at centre, with Ben Pomeroy relegated to the bench.

In the only other change Jonathan Mannah is out with Taulima Tautai recalled to the bench.

The Wests Tigers will field almost the same side as last Monday with the exception being the return of prop Bryce Gibbs, which pushes Aaron Woods to the bench.

Watch Out Sharks: Benji Marshall’s seemingly effortless brilliance against the Titans again helped his side to a comprehensive victory. He ran for 187 metres, added four line-breaks (a career best), two try assists and a try of his own. He is just seven points behind Chris Sandow in the race for leading point scorer and could easily overtake him in this match if the Sharks aren’t careful. With 11 tries so far this season he could also become the first five-eighth since either Scott Gale (Balmain ’87) or Denis Pittard (Magpies ’67) to lead the club for most tries in a season (Blake Ayshford also has 11 tries). 

Danger Sign: Only once in eight matches has Marshall ever lost to Cronulla (2008). He has scored seven tries against them, made six line-breaks and six try assists. In his four matches at Toyota Stadium he remains undefeated and the Tigers have scored on average 38 points. In 2011 Marshall has averaged 83 metres, he has 15 line-breaks, 23 line-break assists, 11 tries, 23 try assists (second in NRL) and 90 tackle-breaks. All signs point to the Kiwi captain putting on a clinic…

Watch Out Wests Tigers: There aren’t many stats where the Sharks are outpointing the Wests Tigers but there are a few and they could be very important. The Sharks are making fewer errors a game compared to their rivals. With just 10.4 a match the Sharks rank third in the NRL (oh dear – imagine how the year might have gone if they were towards the back end of the rankings?) while the Wests Tigers make 11.7 a match to be ranked 12th. At just over one more a match you might think it’s negligible but in this tight competition it only takes one extra crucial error to be the difference. Another stat the Sharks are ahead in is offloads. 

Once again they rank third in the NRL, with 13.2 a game (thanks mainly to Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou) while the Tigers rank eighth with 11.6. It might just be that extra popped pass and second-phase opportunity that gives the Sharks a chance of an upset.

Danger Sign: While the Sharks’ focus will be primarily on Gallen it is also the last club match for the likes of Kade Snowden and Luke Douglas. Douglas has been a real workhorse and will be missed when he moves to the Titans. Since making his debut in 2006 Douglas has compiled an incredible record of 145 matches, averaging 12.6 runs for 104 metres. He also averaged 32 tackles from 56 minutes of game time. He’s not a noted try-scorer but he does have three for the year and might just try to go out with another. Six of his last seven tries over the past four years have been scored at home. 

Plays To Watch: Sharks having a crack early in the count (why not?); Gallen offloads; Marshall’s everything; Robert Lui running himself; set scrum plays. 

Where It Will Be Won: This game doesn’t shape as one full of brutal defence… rather it will be an attacking shootout. The Wests Tigers want the win – but they want it without cost so we get the feeling their tackles won’t contain quite as much ferocity. And the Sharks are just out to have some fun and know if they are to match the razzle-dazzle of the Tigers they’ll at least need to have a crack. 

Obviously any team with Marshall has an edge in a game of ‘touch footy’… but the Sharks proved last week they can score a few tries from distance. 

For the record, the Wests Tigers are averaging 21.3 points a match to the Sharks’ 17.7. But which team has scored more points on average at Toyota Stadium…? The Wests Tigers. (See below). 

The History: Played 19; Sharks 5, Wests Tigers 13, drawn 1. The Wests Tigers have had the wood on the Sharks and have won seven of the past eight games between the clubs. If you are counting on Cronulla having home field advantage… don’t. In the nine matches played the Sharks have won just two at Toyota Stadium. In fact the Wests Tigers average more points at the venue than any other club, with 29 per game, while the Sharks have currently scored their sixth-fewest points at home on record (155).

Conclusion: The Sharks have been better than their ladder position gives them credit for, having lost seven games this year by eight points or less. But it still shows they can’t close the deal. They’ll put up a decent fight but the Wests Tigers are in a brilliant patch of form and barring complete complacency could put a real number past the home side. 
Expect the Tigers to lock up fourth spot here. 

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins. 

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.