Roosters v Sharks preview

Roosters v Sharks
Allianz Stadium
Saturday, 7.30pm

Just when you thought football of Origin intensity was over for the year, this clash, pitting Sydney’s east against Sydney’s south, crops up. The battle of the high-flying Roosters and the title-hungry Sharks puts 10 past and present NSW players on the same field – but this time they’re playing each other.

In a match featuring current and former Blues including Anthony Minichiello, Michael Jennings, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Luke O’Donnell, Boyd Cordner, Michael Gordon, Todd Carney, Andrew Fifita and Luke Lewis, this clash has the potential to be one of the best of 2013. Toss in a New Zealand dual international in Sonny Bill Williams and a former Queensland prop in Ben Ross and this Saturday night’s match at Allianz Stadium has every right to be billed as one of epic proportions.

This year the born-again Roosters, under a new coaching group led by Trent Robinson, are proving a genuine premiership threat. Currently second on the competition table, the Bondi boys’ success thus far has been built on incredible defence – they concede an average of just 12.3 points and 2.1 tries per game. It’s the reason why they’ve lost just four matches all season, and enter this clash on a three-match winning streak following victories against the Dragons, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs.

The Sharks, meanwhile, continue to do phenomenally well despite the dark lingering cloud that is the ASADA investigation. Currently in fifth position, they’ve also built their victories around a defensive resilience, though their attack still needs a lot of work (they average just 18 points per match – ranked 11th in the NRL). As do their second-half efforts, after turning substantial leads into heart attack territory for coach Shane Flanagan in recent wins against the Broncos and Tigers.

This week the Roosters have made some positional changes to the side that completed a rout of the Dragons two weeks ago before the bye. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s inclusion pushes Shaun Kenny-Dowall back into the centres and Mitchell Aubusson to the bench. Halves Maloney and Pearce have been named in the No.6 and No.7 but their inclusion depends on how they recover from Origin III, as does that of Blues rookie Boyd Cordner and centre Jennings. Isaac Liu has been named in jersey No.18.

The Sharks’ line-up, meanwhile, continues to feel the pinch with as many as 10 first-graders possibly unavailable for this clash. The good news is all injuries are likely short-term complaints, with Paul Gallen, Jeff Robson, Wade Graham, Anthony Tupou, Beau Ryan and Nathan Gardner all due back in the coming few weeks. Even centre Ricky Leutele – previously thought to be out for the season – is recovering well and pushing for a spot in the final couple of weeks before the playoffs. This week Cronulla are praying Fifita and Lewis come through Origin unscathed – they’ve been selected but coach Shane Flanagan has named a six-man bench including Ben Pomeroy and Mark Taufua as cover. Robson’s likely one-week calf injury gives back-up playmaker Chad Townsend a chance in the No.7 jersey before he departs for the Warriors.

Watch Out Roosters: It’s no secret Cronulla five-eighth Carney was livid at losing his NSW jersey – and this is his opportunity for “payback” against the man who replaced him, Maloney. The signs of an entertaining individual battle are positive too – last week, with the game still hanging in the balance, the Sharks’ controversial playmaker put the Broncos to the sword, recording three try assists, 110 running metres and five tackle-breaks in an outstanding performance. If he does that again, Cronulla will prove hard to handle.

Watch Out Sharks: With a weakened pack, Cronulla are vulnerable – and the Roosters’ pack of behemoths are more than capable of taking advantage. The Sharks’ first-choice forward unit is missing Gallen, Tupou and Graham – three of their most experienced and influential stars – and Roosters coach Robinson will be asking his men to put Cronulla’s fill-ins to the sword. With SBW arguably in career-best form, who in the Sharks’ line-up can stop him?

Plays To Watch:
This clash will be all about men in action – whichever side provides their playmakers with greater ball-playing options and holes to hit will hold a significant advantage. Look for Maloney, Pearce and even SBW to look for Minichiello, Jennings and Tuivasa-Sheck running either looping ‘out’ lines or inside lines towards the posts and in behind the ruck. For the Sharks, Michael Gordon and Nathan Stapleton are the key targets – look for Carney, in particular, to go searching for them when he’s ready to attack.

Key Match-Up: It’s without doubt Maloney and Carney – and what a duel it should prove. The Roosters’ No.6 and current Blues stand-off enters this clash in fine form – he’s scored five tries, made seven line-breaks and created nine tries and nine line-breaks in 14 games this season. Carney, meanwhile, has played the same number of matches but for one try, three line-breaks, 16 try assists and 10 line-break assists. Much will come down to the five-eighths’ running games – Carney, in particular, has recently highlighted how effective he can be when he takes the line on. Flanagan just needs to get him to do it more often.

Where It Will Be Won: The mid-field arm wrestle – it pits the best metre-eating team (Cronulla – 1443 per match) against the stingiest metre-conceding club (Roosters – 1284 per match). Something’s got to give, but which team will it be?

The History: Played 83; Roosters 54, Sharks 27, drawn 2. At Allianz, the stats are also well in the home side’s favour, the Bondi boys victorious in 12 of 19 meetings.

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Justin Morgan.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Roosters v Sharks clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.

The Way We See It: With a casualty ward as large as that at Sutherland Hospital, it’s difficult to see the Sharks challenging the Roosters in this clash. Robinson’s men are cemented in the top four for a reason – they’ve been playing outstanding football in 2013. The Roosters’ water-tight defence, combined with Cronulla’s attacking problems, should see them home. The Roosters by 12 points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats.