Following an ABC report which accused the club of holding a separate bank account used to pay a player third-party payments, salary cap irregularities and using peptides, this writer feels extreme sympathy for overwhelming majority of Sharks fans. After all, we just got accused of using the concession of penalties to our benefit by the same media outlet (an article expertly denounced by the underpaid Dr NRL).
Well, sympathy for all except one fan in particular.
The club has been poorly run according to Bruno Cullen, with the image of the coaches fundraising on their own to pay for gym equipment sounding much like the old chook raffle days at any A-Grade function.
Here’s just a small tip for the Cronulla club though: if you open a High Performance Unit account separate from the books, you should try to back it up with high performance. Otherwise, just revert to the name “bank account”.
But I digress. There’s a game on with massive importance for both teams. The Sharks need to win this to guarantee a spot in the playoffs and to give their suffering fans — and themselves — a reason to smile after a week and year of off-field hell. A win here would be a famous one for a club in the absolute doldrums.
The Roosters need to win to guarantee a top two finish and run their winning streak to an amount they haven’t reached since…
(I promised I wouldn’t say it to jinx it, and that goes for you too, Brad H’Ghar:
We should all endeavour to be so quiet.
Team for Round 24: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Mitchell Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Aidan Guerra, Sonny Bill Wiliams, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, TBC, Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa.
It’s been well-documented on these pages, but for those unaware: Luke O’Donnell has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season. Coach Trent Robinson has not yet named a replacement, but the common thinking is that Tinirau Arona or Samisoni Langi will move onto the bench, with Dylan Napa to be the back-up prop.
It’s also rumoured that Aidan Guerra might not be fit to play but this writer has not yet been able to confirm either way. If he is ruled out, the Roosters’ much-vaunted depth suddenly becomes severely tested with Boyd Cordner, Kane Evans, Marty Kennedy and Michael Oldfield all still out for what is expected to be the rest of the season, and with regular captain Anthony Minichiello still a week away from returning.
Regardless, they are just two wins away from securing the minor premiership — unless their +321 differential takes a massive tumble — and are on the verge of their first nine-game winning streak since…
(Shit, came close that time.)
They also remain on track to be the most penalised team since the 1996 Eels and may actually surpass that monumental feat. That Eels squad averaged 8.62 penalties against a game; the Roosters are currently averaging 8.57. If they manage to pass that team they’ll become the most penalised club since the Knights in 1994, which averaged a spectacular 9.41 penalties conceded.
Surely we cant get there, can we?
Speaking of penalties, this game pitches the most penalised team against the team who has received the most penalties. Back over to you, Brad (@jr_136) and what you like to call the “Penalty Count Fun Fact” (#PCFF):
What I think young Bradley is trying to say here — and I’m taking an educated guess — is that this game has the potential to be one giant clusterfuck with a penalty count as lopsided as Lance Armstrong’s scrotum.
I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant.
Oh, and did I mention one of the referees this week is Ashley Klein? bring your earplugs, people. It’s about to get whistle-y.
How they’ll play
There is space wherever Ben Pomeroy happens to be. The erratic centre has 37 missed tackles to his name in 15 games and is a poor reader of defences, often coming in too early, over-committing or not committing at all. Sadly for him, he’ll come up against the incredible left side attack of the Roosters. Jennings has 16 tries this year and could bag another one or two in this game. In fact, he should.
Beau Ryan also comes in far too often from his wing, and the Roosters could really benefit with a BBQ cutout to Tupou or some pure speed from Jennings
In their 40-0 win five weeks ago, Mitchell Pearce shredded the defence with arguably the best passing game he’s ever produced off the back of incredible go-forward. But with LOD and Cordner out, that benefit may not exist to the same effect in this one. They made nearly 800 more metres than the Sharks in that game, but the Shire club was missing three key forwards.
However, SBW didn’t play in that one either nd he’ll be expected to step up in the face of the overrated comedic talents and purile adolescence of Ryan and his SBTV skits (more on this a little later). Don’t be surprised if Sonny Bill takes his talents out left at Beau, as he’s been getting visibly angrier as the season has gone on — most notably against Willie Mason’s head a few weeks ago and the Tigers last week when he slammed the ball down following one of his specials. If he stays right, they can still find space as SKD will have the strength advantage over youngster Sosaia Feki.
Again, space can be found up the middle and RTS could sidestep the large, lumbering front row of the Sharks as he did against Galloway et. al. last week. The fullback has 17 linebreaks this year and looked far more comfortable in the custodian role last week than he did the week before.
Team for Round 24: Michael Gordon, Sosaia Feki, Ben Pomeroy, Jonathan Wright, Beau Ryan, Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Andrew Fifita, John Morris, Bryce Gibbs, Luke Lewis, Paul Gallen. Interchange: (From) Isaac De Gois, Chris Heighington, Jayson Bukuya, Anthony Tupou, Sam Tagataese.
The last time the Sharks played the Roosters they were without Paul Gallen, Jeff Robson, Luke Lewis, Ben Pomeroy, Wade Graham and Beau Ryan through an assortment of reasons, and were promptly pumped 40-0. Well, all those players are back now, so don’t expect the cakewalk the Roosters were given last start.
But Beau Ryan should not expect a cakewalk either after his ribbing of Sonny Bill Williams on the Footy Show may have led to this outburst by Frank-Paul Nu’uasala a couple of weeks ago:
Oh man, I can’t wait for his first run.
The Sharks are sixth in the competition but have again been hammered in the media thanks to the aforementioned ABC report. But from a purely football perspective the club has two ways ahead: unite, as they did in round one, or fall apart under the pressure.
How they’ll play
Todd Carney seems to play a lot freer with Jeff Robson in the team, and the five-eighth has been excellent this year especially in kicking for goal, having missed just three all year from 40 attempts. He’s the impetus of everything they do playmaking-wise, assisting on 19 of their 63 tries this year (30 per cent). For comparison’s sake, MP7 has assisted on 20 of the Roosters’ 98 tries at 20 per cent.
His short kicking game has been excellent and a lot are aimed at the streaking Michael Gordon up the middle, so The Sheck will have to be on his game and read it better than he’s had to recently against the lame kicking of Benji Marshall.
The also need to stop Andrew Fifita, and early. He’s like The Juggernaut from X-Men: once he gets momentum he can be near-impossible to stop. He has eight tries and 82 tackle busts at 4.1 a game this season. He and JWH have been the best front-rowers in the NRL this year, and the former Tiger will be out to prove a point following a fiery game off the bench five weeks ago when he was niggling and pushing at every opportunity in an effort to light a fire under his team. He needs to be monitored and mirrored near the line.
Failing that, Wade Graham and Luke Lewis will attack the fringes off decoy runs and/or short balls, and both need attention from the defence at all times.
This is not going to be the dream run everyone thinks. In the 40-0 flogging the Sharks were missing five key players, including their entire backrow, and promptly were destroyed by a rolling forward pack from the Bondi club. And if there is one thing we know about Paul Gallen, he’s a proud individual. His name has been muddied all week and he’s been under the pump from ASADA; fuck, he even had his phone seized and scanned by customs like he was some mule.
To me, this game has all the makings of an upset. The Roosters are down on troops, potentially complacent and possibly due for a loss especially as the season comes to a close. The Sharks literally have nothing to lose: they have no cash, no sponsor and no HPU bank account anymore. They are playing at a home ground sponsored by a cleaning company and many are forecasting the club will struggle to make ends meet.
They have a forward pack the envy of most others in the league and many tipped them as premiership favourites before the ASADA investigation kicked in at the start of the year.
But I can’t tip against the Roosters. This is their biggest test before the finals begin a week early and they must have worked on their slow starts during training this week. They are on a roll, winning despite of themselves, the penalty count and a mounting injury toll compounded by suspension. While an upset would not surprise this writer in the least, it does seem unlikely.
When in doubt, #inRobboWeTrust.
I’m tipping a 1-12 effort here with a Man of the Match award to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. He should find the same space up the middle that Jason Nightingale found last week, and could exploit one of the poorer kick-chases in the NRL.