Brendan Wood previews the Saturday night clash at Bankwest Stadium between the Cronulla Sharks and the Wests Tigers.
Cronulla have had a forgettable start to the season. They dropped their first game to the Rabbitohs 22-18, then went down to the Storm 12-10 after leading for most of the game. They currently sit in 11th position, still searching for their first win.
The Tigers had two very contrasting performances in their first two games. They outlasted the Dragons 24-14 to get their first win, but were embarrassed by the Knights 42-24 in their second game. They currently sit on the edge of the eight in 9th position.
1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Jack Williams Bench: 14. Connor Tracey 15. Braden Hamlin-Uele 16. Toby Rudolf 17. Scott Sorensen Reserves: 18. Billy Magoulias 19. Matt Moylan 20. Royce Hunt 21. Siosifa Talakai.
Bronson Xerri is a notable absence after being stood down by the club for failing an ASADA drug test. Josh Dugan returns to the centres in his place, with Josh Morris leaving the club to join his brother at the Roosters. Briton Nikora returns from a shoulder injury in the second row, moving Scott Sorensen back to the bench. Matt Moylan has been named in the squad and could be a possible late inclusion.
1. Adam Doueihi 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Joseph Leilua 4. Moses Mbye 5. Robert Jennings 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Harry Grant 10. Thomas Mikaele 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Alex Twal Bench: 14. Oliver Clark 15. Billy Walters 16. Chris Lawrence 17. Alex Seyfarth Reserves: 18. Josh Reynolds 19. Matt Eisenhuth 20. Zane Musgrove 21. Michael Chee-Kam.
The Tigers backline has been re-shuffled, with Corey Thompson being dropped from the side. Adam Doueihi gets his chance at the back, with Robert Jennings coming onto the wing and Moses Mbye returning from injury in the centres. New recruit Harry Grant takes the starting hooker role on debut, moving Billy Walters to the bench. Alex Twal takes the starting lock role, with Alex Seyfarth making his debut from the bench. Luke Brooks returns from injury in the halves.
Since 1998 these sides have played each other 31 times. The Tigers lead the head to head wins 17 to 13, with one draw. However, the Sharks have won the last six games they’ve played against the Tigers, including a 25-8 win in the final round of last season to knock the Tigers out of finals contention.
The Tigers also have a woeful record at Bankwest stadium. They have only won once from five games and have been outscored 142 to 54 across those games.
BATTLE TO WATCH
The matchup to watch will be the two hookers, Blayke Brailey vs Harry Grant. Two of the best young talents at their position should make for a cracking game.
Blayke Brailey will be looking to further cement his spot in the starting side for Cronulla, after playing behind his brother Jayden last season. With Jayden moving to Newcastle, Blayke has taken over as the starting hooker and hasn’t looked out of place in that jersey. The arrival of Connor Tracey from the Rabbitohs has threatened Brailey’s opportunities to play a full 80 minute role so far this season. As he continues to gain bigger minutes and experience, his combinations with halves Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend will only grow stronger. The Sharks have looked more potent in attack with him on the field threating from dummy-half.
All eyes will be on Harry Grant making his debut for the Tigers. The first player swap in NRL history allowed him to come to the Tigers from the Melbourne Storm in exchange for Paul Momirovski. He will get first crack at making the number nine jersey his own this year. There are huge wraps on him from the Storm and the Sunshine Coast Falcons, where he has earned comparisons to Cameron Smith with his style of play. Sitting behind Cameron and Brandon Smith in Melbourne, Grant now has been given the opportunity to make his mark in first grade for the Tigers. Expect to see him grab that opportunity with both hands.
This should be a good tough game of footy. Both teams are capable of scoring points, but the Tigers will be trying out a new look combination in their spine, which may have them at a disadvantage. Despite the loss of Bronson Xerri and Josh Morris, the Sharks should still have enough to get past the Tigers and get their first win of the year. Especially if the Tigers last defensive performance is anything to go by.
Prediction: Sharks by 4.
Date: Saturday 30 June 2020
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Sydney