Schick Hydro Preview: Titans v Sharks
Cbus Super Stadium
History has haunted the Sharks since their introduction into the New South Wales Rugby League competition in 1967 yet here they are perched on the edge of immortality with a 15-game winning streak that shows no signs of abating.
Cronulla fans can barely recall the last time they saw their team lose a game way back in Round 3 with last weekend's 36-4 win over Newcastle putting further space between their current winning run and the club's previous best of 11 achieved in 2002 and 1975.
But is their truth in the old adage that with every win you are one game closer to a loss? When does history begin to weigh heavily? Does the mark of 19 games without defeat set by the Roosters of 1975 have any consequence or is the lure of a larger prize in October all that is required for Shane Flanagan to bring out the best in his players?
A Monday night on the Gold Coast looms as a danger game for the Sharks up against a Titans team that pushed them until the final play of the game at Southern Cross Group Stadium back in Round 6.
The Storm are the only team to have beaten the Titans by more than 10 points in 2016 and with back-to-back 20-point wins against the Dragons and Eels the Gold Coasters have vaulted up into seventh spot with a positive points differential.
The crucial period in this game shapes in the 20 minutes prior to half-time. Head-to-head stats between the two teams show that this is when the Titans can be vulnerable defensively and when the Sharks like to attack.
Cronulla have scored 25 of their 83 tries this season between the 20 and 40-minute mark of games while 20 of the 67 tries that the Titans have conceded this season have come in the same period.
Greg Bird returns to face his former club after a week suspended but there is an injury cloud hanging over Nathan Peats who is battling a hamstring strain. With co-captain Nathan Friend already sidelined with a slight hamstring tear the Titans have named Ryan Simpkins on the bench but may need to call in Kierran Moseley to face off against the wily Michael Ennis.
News that Ennis will retire at the end of the season gives the Sharks even greater incentive to push for that maiden premiership this year, bolstered for the Titans game by the return of New South Wales five-eighth James Maloney.
Watch out Titans: In two wins against the Titans Valentine Holmes has twice come up with the crucial play that sealed victory for his side; and in his only other game against the Titans he scored two tries. Valentine has been a heart-breaker for Titans fans in the two most recent clashes with the Sharks with a golden point field goal in Round 10 last year and a spectacular putdown in the corner nine minutes from full-time in Round 6 this season. Overall he has five tries, two goals and a field goal in three games against Gold Coast and comes into this game with a last start double against the Knights to take his season tally to 15. He's a player of rare talent in exceptional form who delivers in games against Gold Coast; watch out indeed.
Watch out Sharks: If first impressions count then Konrad Hurrell is going to prove very popular with Titans fans in the years to come. Having enjoyed success at Cbus Super Stadium with the Warriors Hurrell rekindled his love affair with the ground with a complete performance against the Eels. He scored the game's opening try, set one up later for Chris McQueen, had eight tackle busts, ran for a game high 192 metres, had two line breaks and a line-break assist. His four missed tackles remain a concern but with two 80 minute performances back-to-back for the first time in more than 12 months he will continue to get better with every run he has. Which should spell danger for Sharks defenders who hope to contain him on Monday night.
Key match-up: Josh Hoffman v Jack Bird. At the start of the season Josh Hoffman said he was dedicating himself to becoming the best centre in the game and in the past month he has shown it's not a goal that is beyond him. Looking as sharp on his feet as he did in his finest days at the Broncos, Hoffman has registered 13 tackle busts and three line breaks in the past fortnight but against Jack Bird it will be defensively where he needs to excel. With speed and strength Bird is a handful wherever he pops up on the field and is coming off a try-scoring double against Newcastle last week. The Titans can look fragile on the edges in defence so there's no doubt Sharks coach Shane Flanagan will conjure something to get Bird into space on the right on Monday night.
History: Played 14; Titans 6, Sharks 8. The Sharks were forced to fight back to win 25-20 in Round 6 after a determined Titans outfit overcame a 14-0 deficit to lead 18-14 early in the second half. It continued the recent trend of close games between these teams with six of the past seven games decided by six points or less. The Sharks needed golden point to win in their last start at Cbus Super Stadium, a Valentine Holmes field goal getting the visitors home 23-22 in Round 10 last year. Cronulla's overall record at Robina is two wins and two losses.
What are the odds: Titans $2.75, Sharks $1.45. This is the most even betting game of the round according to Sportsbet. Both teams have been supported to win 1-12 and punters are liking the Gold Coast as outsiders in the head-to-head market. At $7.50 Valentine Holmes is favourite to be first try-scorer. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Belinda Sleeman and Adam Gee. Review Officials: Luke Patten and Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 6.30pm AEST.
How we see it: In the past fortnight the Titans have discovered the execution needed to go with their effort and are playing with the confidence to go with teams and then pile on points late. It's a formula familiar to the Sharks also but despite their winning run Cronulla's completion rate in their past three victories has hovered just above and below 70 per cent. If the Titans can continue their trend of completing at better than 80 per cent – and Nathan Peats plays – they have what it takes to cause an upset. Titans by one point.