The best defensive team in the comp, the Roosters, come up against a middle of the range attack and defence from the Shire. The Chooks have won their past three matches, and are just one game of keeping a team scoreless from equalling the record they set in 1977 by keeping five teams scoreless in one season — a year in which they finished just a win away from a Grand Final.
Look, I promised myself at the start of the season this preview would be a Peptide-Free Zone. All the jokes have already been made and I just don’t want to be sued, so instead we’ll just talk the facts about the Sharks.
They have been shooting up the ladder after winning three of their past four matches. Todd Carney has injected his running game into a drowsy backline for the Cronulla squad, and the club smoked the Broncos last week in one burst when the backline had white-line fever in the second half.
But they’ll need to pipe up if they want to crack the Roosters’ premiership-leading defence.
Team for Round 19
Anthony Minichiello (C) ,Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Luke O’Donnell, Boyd Cordner, TBC, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: (From) Daniel Mortimer, Mitch Aubusson, Aidan Guerra, Sam Moa, Isaac Liu.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been named after sitting out the last game against the Dragons with concussion. The Sydney Roosters, and the NRL as a whole, welcome his return.
Coach Trent Robinson named the same squad he named prior to the Dragons clash last start (RTS was a late scratch) with all four Origin players named to back up just three nights after the decider, but Sonny Bill Williams has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Mitch Aubusson should move from the bench to SBW’s vacated second-row spot, with the in-form and recently-re-signed Frank-Paul Nu’uasala starting at lock once again.
The loss will hurt, even with the Cronulla forward pack missing Gallen, Luke Lewis and Wade Graham — as the back row just got noticeably smaller.
The Roosters have now won three in a row including a win against top-four squad Manly, reigning grand finalists the Dogs minus MP7, BBQ and Jenko, and a 36-0 flogging of the Dragons — a game in which this writer expertly predicted the nil scoreline. Not that he’s bragging.
How they’ll play
The Sharks are incredibly weak defensively out wide, with the youngster Sosaia Feki bound to cop a barrage of bombs from Mitchell Pearce who will be keen to atone for a below-par game three in Origin. And Michael Jennings should have a field day against Stewart Mills out on the left edge.
But the smokey here is Shaun Kenny-Dowall. This is his chance to really put his stamp on a game for the first time this year, coming up against the erratic Jonathan Wright, so expect him to combine well with either Aubo/Cordner and RTS by either running decoys or angling back in and running onto a short ball from the big fella. The baby Broncs scored two tries down that flank last week in a one-point loss to the Sharks, and its a definite weakness for the Cronulla club.
The Roosters would be well placed to leave the flair for the flanks, as the Sharks have an impressive forward pack — although Scott Prince turned back the clock 10 years and stepped his way around some less-than-agile forwards last week, even making a rare break. The Sharks have conceded 18 points a game this year but in their past two losses they’ve conceded 11 tries, 10 coming from wide-running second rowers and stretching out to the wings on either side.
We will find out a lot about Mitchell Pearce in this game too: his ability to bounce back and handle a barrage of criticism will be on display here, and how he responds will prove vital to the Roosters chances not only in this game, but in their chances to win the premiership. He was in tears after game three, but he can potentially cry tears of joy come October if he puts the series behind him and plays the way he has all year.
Team for Round 19
Michael Gordon, Sosaia Feki, Stewart Mills, Jonathan Wright, Nathan Stapleton, Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Bryce Gibbs, John Morris, Andrew Fifita, Jayson Bukuya, TBC, Chris Heighington. Interchange: (From) Isaac De Gois, Tyrone Peachey, Sam Tagataese, Ben Ross, Ben Pomeroy, Mark Taufua.
Captain Paul Gallen remains out with a foot injury while Wade Graham is out for up to a month with a shoulder injury and Jeff Robson will also miss this one. Andrew Fifita will back up from the decider, but Lewis will presumably be out after suffering a calf tear in the decider. Hi replacement has not yet been named, but one would assume Tyrone Peachey or Sam Tagataese would slot into the back row.
Meanwhile, Ben Pomeroy has been named on that very same extended bench after being dropped last week for being terrible.
The Sharks are on what seems to be a semi-roll, rocketing to fifth place after winning three of their past four clashes. But those three wins have come against the Broncos missing their Origin players, the bottom-feeding Eels and the turmoil-infested Tigers. In their two losses in the past five matches they’ve been flogged by both the Cowboys and the Storm.
How they’ll play
Todd Carney’s running game was back to its best last week, albeit against a heavily depleted Broncos squad. The Roosters will need to aim up and get off their line early to contain him.
But with Robson out, Toddles will be forced to act as more of a general play organiser, a facet of rugby league he is far stronger at than Robson’s replacement, Chad Townsend.
In the game prior to the Broncos against the Tigers, the Sharks scored four tries from forwards and they sport Andrew Fifita who will be used to barge over close to the line. The Roosters have JWH to nullify him though.
They’ll stick to their usual game plan of chipping to the wings and hoping for the best, or putting a short grubber behind the line — a Carney strength — hoping for carnage and spilled ball to ensue and the faint hope of a Sharkies hand touching a ball on the ground over the tryline.
The Sharks have typically struggled to score against the best teams in the NRL. They average only 18 points a game and in their past two losses they’ve scored just 10 points.
However, they did manage to inflict the Rabbitohs second and only loss this year, an effort they did without Paul Gallen who will also miss this one. And the win-loss stats without Gallen for the Sharks are quite surprising: they’ve won around 32 per cent of their games their captain has played in, and 44 per cent without him (this stat was seen on the Matty Johns show, and the writer can’t recall the time frame from which this stat is relevant).
But they come up against a rejuvenated defence working well since the return of defensive anchor JWH, and looking across the field against a Sharks team missing their captain and a ball-playing, angle-running second rower in Graham, the Roosters will be wondering how their opposition will score.
If the Roosters can get in Carney’s face and if the forwards can halt the Fifita juggernaut before it gets any momentum, the Sharks will really struggle to cross the line — even with SBW out.
I’m predicting a 1-12 scoreline now that Sonny is out — I’m thinking along the lines of a 12-8 scoreline in a low-scoring but thrilling contest.
The original prediction was for SBW to take the Man of the Match award, but instead we’ll look to Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to continue his red-hot form in his past two games in which he’s run it 39 times for 340 metres. The contest between he and Fifita will be worth the price of admission alone.