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Sharks v Bulldogs
Bluetongue Stadium
Sunday, 3pm 

A crunch game in Round 7? Yep, you’d better believe it!
The Sharks and the Bulldogs – two of the competition favourites at the start of the season – haven’t begun 2013 like serious premiership contenders, that’s for sure. Sitting in 10th and 16th place respectively, this match gives both teams the opportunity to ‘right’ their so-far-wayward campaigns.

Cronulla have won just two matches – against the Titans and the Warriors at home – while Canterbury have recorded just one victory, against the Eels in Round 2. Much more is expected of their star-studded line-ups.

Perhaps the representative weekend break has given their coaching staff and players time to think about what’s going wrong… and how they can get it right. The efforts to correct their season start now.

For the Sharks, Todd Carney has been named in their line-up after missing his team’s past two matches with a foot injury. Aside from the star five-eighth coming in for Chad Townsend, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has made just one other change to the side beaten by Manly in Round 6, with Jonathan Wright selected in the centres in place of Stewart Mills. A five-man interchange bench includes 18th man Sam Tagataese. 

Canterbury, meanwhile, have named the same squad that played the Roosters last round, with Trent Hodkinson named at halfback with Kris Keating still unavailable due to injury. No changes after suffering a 38-0 flogging at the hands of the Roosters? Coach Des Hasler must have faith!

Watch Out Sharks: Cronulla are finding it a struggle to cross the chalk in 2013. An historically troubling area for the team from the Shire, the Sharks are ranked 14th for points scored (14.7 points per game), 15th in tries scored (2.5 per game) and 15th in line-breaks (2.5 per game) in 2013. It simply isn’t good enough. 

Perhaps they need to direct more ball-running support off the shoulders of back-rowers Luke Lewis (eight offloads), Paul Gallen (13 offloads), Chris Heighington (11 offloads) and Anthony Tupou (10 offloads). They need to do something, that’s for sure!

Watch Out Bulldogs: Ironically, the only team worse off in the 2013 attacking stakes than Cronulla is, in fact, Canterbury! The Bulldogs just haven’t been able to solve their attacking dilemmas and are ranked stone-cold-motherless last in points scored (11.3 per game), tries scored (two per game) and line-breaks (2.3 per game). Obviously Ben Barba’s absence during the first three weeks of the competition has played a part – as has the unavailability of ball-playing front-rower Sam Kasiano – but no doubt coach Des Hasler has been scratching his head trying to find a solution to his growing problems over the break. What can he pull out of his hat here?

Plays To Watch: Sharks Lewis and Gallen looking to reconnect using short balls and switches after a successful combination for the Kangaroos last Friday night; Josh Reynolds giving Ben Barba the football early in the set and in each individual play – he needs to provide crisp service for the Bulldogs to rediscover their attacking powers of 2012; Michael Ennis and both John Morris and Isaac De Gois coming head-to-head on a number of occasions – the Bulldogs hooker loves nothing better than niggle to get under his opposition hookers’ skins; Sharks Wade Graham and Paul Gallen taking the challenge of marking Tony ‘T-Rex’ Williams personally. Look for both Cronulla back-rowers to get up in his face at various stages of the game… no matter where he is roaming.

Key Match-Up: Todd Carney and Josh Reynolds head-to-head – it could well prove to be a battle for a Blues jersey. Cronulla’s No.6, back to full fitness and no doubt eager to impress after recovering from a foot injury, is the NSW incumbent but plenty have been pushing the case of Canterbury’s stand-off. Playing outside effective but no-frills halfbacks Jeff Robson and Trent Hodkinson, both teams’ attacking creativity is in the hands of their No.6s. 

Carney has had what many would label an under-par start to the season in the four matches he’s played – he’s registered just three try assists, one line-break assist and a total of 200 running metres. He has, however, kicked two 40/20s. 

Reynolds, meanwhile, has run for 450 metres, scored two tries but created just three others in his six games this season. If their teams are to right their premiership campaigns – and if either are to entertain thoughts of donning a Blues jersey this season – more is needed from both of them. Expect them to take their team’s challenge personally. After all, their attack’s struggling – and it’s their job to fix it.

Where It Will Be Won: They are their team’s ball-running go-to men – the spark from the back when all other options prove fruitless. The battle between Cronulla No.1 Michael Gordon and Bulldogs custodian Ben Barba will make or break this match. 

Both elusive, electric and incredibly exciting runners of the football, the team that controls their opposition fullback best will be well on the way to victory here. 

Gordon, in particular, has proven influential at his new club – he’s already run for 971 metres, broken 27 tackles and scored 38 points in his first six games at the Sharks. Barba, however, has just begun his comeback journey. This battle will be one to keep a close eye on. 

Expect plenty of kicks to be directed at the wingers – coaches Flanagan and Hasler will be demanding they limit their opponent’s attacking influence from the back as much as possible. 

The History: Played 84; Bulldogs 52, Sharks 30, drawn 2. At Bluetongue Stadium there’s been just the one match played between the two sides, with Canterbury prevailing 24-12 in 2010.

Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Shane Rehm; Video Referees – Shayne Hayne & Luke Patten

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm. 

The Way We See It: There’s just too much strength in the Sharks’ forward pack for them to succumb to the Bulldogs in this one – or so we think. Cronulla’s pack, featuring Gallen, Graham, Lewis, Tupou, Ben Ross and rising star Andrew Fifita, is one of the finest in the competition. Against a Canterbury outfit missing Sam Kasiano and James Graham, they should prove too powerful. Cronulla by seven points in a low-scoring contest.

*Statistics: NRL Stats
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