Both sides may be at opposite ends of the NRL premiership ladder, but both teams tasted bitter defeat last week. The Sharks fell to a red-hot Titans outfit who played some excellent football in torrential conditions on the Gold Coast. Further north, the Rabbitohs put in another uninspiring performance up in Cairns against the Cowboys. Neither coach was happy, but South Sydney’s Michael Maguire had the look of a man who was about to rip an unsuspecting journo’s head off if they asked the wrong question during his presser. Just imagine what his players received after the game. The question is though, which team will respond the best here?
LAST TIME OUT
On a waterlogged Cbus Super Stadium, the home team Titans handled the conditions and the Sharks with relative ease. In short though, the Titans put in a performance that should be more the norm than it has been and the Sharks had an off night. It added up to a 20-point loss that probably should have been bigger if it wasn’t for the Titans knocking off a little early. With key players out and others playing out of position or in different roles, this was a loss that should be disregarded. They are a better team and club for this to become par for the course.
After a strong start, the Rabbitohs went down a road they had gone down far too often in 2017. Errors and ineffectual defence turned their lead into a deficit and that is the way things stayed until they were put out of their misery by the fulltime whistle. The Rabbitohs errors were the real killer on this occasion. Well, more to the point, the position on the field where the errors were made was the killer. To continually grant a team like the Cowboys (who are looking more settled as the season goes on) attacking opportunities without having to work for it doesn’t usually work out for the opposition. This, more than anything, frustrated coach Maguire. His team didn’t give themselves a chance to win.
In essence, both the Sharks and Rabbitohs forward packs like to play the same kind of game. They like to be physical with and without the ball. They both like to offload the football. And they can both take over a game without you realising what has happened.
For both teams, the equation is simple: offload the ball to create second phase play and increase the pressure on the opposing defences. At the same time, minimise the errors as best as you can.
That second part of the equation is the part the Sharks get right a lot of the time. The Rabbitohs? Not so much. The hardest part for Michael Maguire has been that a lot of the errors haven’t even come through sloppy passing. They have been in normal hit-up situations. Another issue for the man known as “Madge” is that his pack has a touch of “Jekyll and Hyde” about them. They are either very good, or very bad.
He will be hoping they show their best side on Friday night. Otherwise, a proud Sharks side who were outplayed last week will rip through them.
Cronulla are out of the Top 4 now and are one of several clubs in the middle of the Top 8 on 26 points. They therefore find themselves in a position where wins are like gold. Not just in terms of finishing position, but also in regards to building momentum going into the finals. On the other hand, the Rabbitohs season is pretty much over. They are too far behind the teams currently in the Top 8 and have several teams who have either booked their ticket into the finals or looking to break into the Top 8. They are playing for pride. Unfortunately, they have the look of a team who are about to fall off the cliff.
The Sharks will look to reset the mechanism, so to speak, here and re-focus their efforts into defending their premiership. A solid win at home is a nice way to regain that focus.
Sharks by 12
Sharks v Rabbitohs, Friday 21 July, 7.50pm at Southern Cross Group Stadium
Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Fa’amanu Brown 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Sam Tagataese 17. James Segeyaro 18. Jeremy Latimore 19. Kurt Capewell 20. Edrick Lee 21. Joseph Paulo
Rabbitohs: 1. Cody Walker 2. Alex Johnston 3. Bryson Goodwin 4. Robert Jennings 5. Aaron Gray 6. John Sutton 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Robbie Farah 10. David Tyrrell 11. Tyrell Fuimaono 12. Angus Crichton 13. Sam Burgess 14. Damien Cook 15. Jason Clark 16. Zane Musgrove 17. George Burgess 18. Anthony Cherrington 19. Kyle Turner 20. Braidon Burns 22. Cameron Murray