The Cronulla Sharks will be looking to end the Melbourne Storm’s unbeaten start to the season when they face off at Southern Cross Stadium on Monday night.
Much like their history against the Manly Sea Eagles, who defeated the Sharks in round 3, the Cronulla side have a bleak record against Melbourne, having won just 9 games out of 29 attempts since 1998. Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan last week said it was not history that beat his side at Brookvale, and they will be out to prove history wrong this week.
LAST TIME OUT
The Sharks have won just one of their three games to start the season, and will be looking forward to returning to Shark Park, where they enjoyed their lone victory of the St George Dragons in round two.
The Melbourne Storm are the only team in the competition to have three straight wins, showing the doomsayers at the start of the season were off the mark, following impressive home wins over the Dragons and Titans, before beating the Warriors in New Zealand.
The last time the two teams meet, the Melbourne Storm defeated the Cronulla side emphatically via a 30-2 score line.
The clash at Southern Cross Stadium contains two of the best hookers in the NRL competition, and the winner of the Michael Ennis vs Cameron Smith battle could go a long way in deciding the outcome of the game. Both number nines are capable of leading their team forward in attack with crafty plays, and clever kicks from dummy half. It is an underrated ability to take on the kicking duties, allowing the team another option outside of their halves, and adding another dimension to attacking raids.
Another key match up in the game is that of James Maloney vs Blake Green. Journeyman Green has seemed settled for the first time at the Storm club, and has formed a strong connection with halves partner Cooper Cronk. Maloney on the other hand, is new, and still struggling to fit his style in with Ennis and Townsend. He is a lethal player when he finds his groove, and it seems only a matter of time before the team gels with their new number six. Watch out Storm if he finds his place this week. From the previous few games, it appears he is trying to hard, and if he relaxes and plays on instinct, the Sharks attack will go up a notch or two. For Green, he has the advantage of knowing his place in the Melbourne side, and will just need to keep taking pressure off Cronk and giving an organising option on both sides of the field.
Cronulla have a roster that is capable of beating anyone on their day, however they do struggle against the wrestle the Storm are known for. Last time the two sides played, the Storm frustrated Cronulla out of the game, slowing down the ruck and forcing them on to the back foot. The home side will need to remain patient and let their own forward pack roll strongly through the middle. Andrew Fifita is in great form and will need to once again produce big numbers for the Sharks’ to get the Easter chocolates.
The Storm will have watched plenty of video on how they dismantled Cronulla last year and will know if they can continue producing the football they have so far, they will be very hard to beat. While Cronulla know they are still learning how to play effectively with their new combinations, the Storm know each other so well, and will look to exploit their more settled roster.
Storm by 10
Sharks: 1 Ben Barba 2 Sosaia Feki 3 Jack Bird 4 Ricky Leutele 5 Valentine Holmes 6 James Maloney 7 Chad Townsend 8 Andrew Fifita 9 Michael Ennis 10 Sam Tagataese 11 Luke Lewis 12 Wade Graham 13 Jayson Bukuya Interchange: 14 Gerard Beale 15 Chris Heighington 16 Matt Prior 17 Joseph Paulo
Storm: 1 Cameron Munster 2 Young Tonumaipea 3 William Chambers 4 Tohu Harris 5 Marika Koroibete 6 Blake Green 7 Cooper Cronk 8 Jesse Bromwich 9 Cameron Smith 10 Jordan McLean 11 Kevin Proctor 12 Kenneth Bromwich 13 Dale Finucane Interchange; 14 Christian Welch 15 Tim Glasby 16 Felise Kaufusi 17 Ben Hampton