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2021 NRL Round 22 Preview, Sharks Vs Knights

Julian Vella previews this Sunday afternoon clash between the Cronulla Sharks and Newcastle Knights. This is what we have to look forward to.

TEAM NEWS

Venue: Moreton Daily Stadium, Redcliffe, Date: 15/8, Time: 4:00pm AEST

Sharks Team

1. Will Kennedy
2. Sione Katoa
3. Siosifa Talakai
4. Jesse Ramien
5. Ronaldo Mulitalo
6. Connor Tracey
7. Braydon Trindall
8. Braden Hamlin-Uele
9. Blayke Brailey
10. Aaron Woods
11. Briton Nikora
12. Jack Williams
13. Toby Rudolf
14. Luke Metcalf
15. Aiden Tolman
16. Andrew Fifita
17. Billy Magoulias
18. Jonaiah Lualua
19. Will Chambers
20. Kai O’Donnell
21. Marwene Hiroti

Team Changes

IN: Jonaiah Lualua, Kai O’Donnell, Marwene Hiroti
OUT:

Knights Team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Enari Tuala
3. Kurt Mann
4. Bradman Best
5. Hymel Hunt
6. Jake Clifford
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Jacob Saifiti
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Daniel Saifiti
11. Tyson Frizell
12. Mitch Barnett
13. Connor Watson
14. Sauaso Sue
15. David Klemmer
16. Simi Sasagi
17. Brodie Jones
18. Josh King
19. Jirah Momoisea
20. Phoenix Crossland
21. Starford To’a

Team Changes

IN: Jayden Brailey, Simi Sasagi, Jirah Momosiea, Starford To’a, Josh King
OUT:
Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Chris Randall

Referee: Matt Cheechin

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Sharks

The Cronulla Sharks will call Redcliffe’s Moreton Daily Stadium home for the the first time, as the NRL continues to be played within the Sunshine State’s borders. After a disappointing loss to an under-strength New Zealand Warriors last Saturday, the Sharks’ season is on life support going into this clash. With their opponents the Knights also in the race for one of the two remaining finals spots, the Sutherland Shire side cannot not afford a loss in this clash, otherwise they risk leaving their fate in the hands of their opponents in the race to the finals.

The loss last week was disappointing on more then one level for the Sharks. Not only did the loss dent the Sharks’ finals chances, but it also kept the Warriors alive in the race to September. A Warriors loss would have ended their finals chances and given the Sharks one less team to fight off for a top 8 spot. The fact the Warriors were under-strength and played 20 minutes of the game with only 12 players made this a really big opportunity missed.

But luckily for the Sharks they have the chance to right their wrongs of the past week, as they have the chance to take two competition points off another direct rival. In turn enhance their odds of qualifying for a 7th straight finals appearance. Despite grabbing all the headlines due to his sledging antics, Will Chambers has been dropped from the side as a result of two costly missed tackles that led to Warriors’ tries.

Knights

Coming off an unprecedented four-day turnaround, Newcastle could be forgiven for not quite being on their game during last Thursday’s victory over the second from bottom Brisbane Broncos. But in the end of the day the two competition points secured meant mission accomplished for Adam O’Brien’s side, although he will be hoping his side can find better form in the next month of the season.

Despite holding the majority of possession throughout the game, the Knights’ attack once again looked pedestrian at times. For large periods of the game where they were camped inside the Bronco’s 10-metre line, the Knights never looked like breaking down the competition’s second worst defence this season. With bigger fish to fry in the next month, O’Brien will need to get his attack firing and scoring more points than they’ve been averaging this year. At this stage of the season only the two bottom clubs in the Broncos and Bulldogs have scored less points than Newcastle.

The return of hooker and co-captain Jayden Brailey will hopefully help the Knights’ cohesion in attack. This, along with the 10-day break between matches, will give the Knights plenty of time on the training paddock to work on combinations and set plays. The likelihood that Connor Watson also starts the match at lock will also give a boost to their attack, as the Knights always look more dangerous with the off-contract utility on the field. The inclusion of Simi Sasagi on the bench also gives the Knights another attacking option to bring on if they’re chasing the game, or suffer an injury in the back-line.

PREVIEW

Two spots are left to fight for in the 2021 NRL Finals series and realistically five clubs are still right in the mix (the Warriors and Tigers are remote chances). The Knights and Sharks are both definitely in the mix and looking at their run home, both sides will like their chances of securing 7th and 8th spot. For the Knights who are on 20 competition points (and have the best run home of any side), a win here isn’t as vital to securing a finals berth, but they would have their eyes on securing seventh position and avoiding a likely elimination match against either Manly or the Roosters.

For the Sharks who are a further two points behind the Knights, they have a slightly tougher run home than the Knights, as they face the Melbourne Storm (who look unbeatable at this stage of the season), which suggests the Sharks need this win more. Depending on results and ‘for and against’ the Sharks could slip into the finals by winning just two of their remaining four games, but that’s a big ‘if’, so Josh Hannay will be reinforcing into his side that this is very much a must win game.

The last time these two sides met was in fact the first game that Hannay took over as interim coach of the Sharks, following the controversial sacking of popular coach and former player John Morris. Both sides went into that game under immense pressure: the Sharks due to the messy situation surrounding the handling of the Morris sacking, while the Knights had been flogged by the Gold Coast Titans the week before and were on a three-game losing streak.

Both sides put aside their issues and played out a truly enthralling clash, as the Sharks came from behind to snatch the lead in the 68th minute, before the Knights claimed the lead back after a try to star fullback Kalyn Ponga after a miracle pass from Tyson Frizell. Since then both clubs have endured massive injury tolls along with form dips amongst other challenges, but with their seasons on the line, they’ll need to put that all behind them this Sunday afternoon.

Regarding the overall health of the two sides, it’s Newcastle who are in better shape as they are finally starting to put their best side on the field after a season hampered by constant injuries and team changes. This will be just the second time they’ve played with their best ‘spine’ (the other occasion resulting in a 38-0 win over the Cowboys). For Cronulla they must be ruing their decision to allow premiership winning halfback Chad Townsend to leave the club early to join the Warriors. With both veteran play-makers Shaun Johnson and Matt Moylan’s history of breaking down with injuries, it was a risky move to allow Townsend to leave, which has now come back to bite them.

The interesting match-up going into this clash will be how both sides handle the Sharks’ decision to move damaging backrower Siosifa Talakai to the left centre position. Whilst Talakai is a former centre, it’s been a while since he played there and his body shape now very much suggests his days in the backs were behind him. But Talakai is a dangerous ball runner and will no doubt give Knights’ centre Kurt Mann a few sleepless nights leading up to the game. Talakai is also a fearsome defender and has become a ‘hit-man’ of sorts this season, however he can be found out in defence in regards to his decision making, so expect the Knights to run some set plays on his edge, to try and force him into a bad defensive read.

KEY STAT

Since Newcastle entered the competition in 1988, they’ve only played one other side more than they’ve played the Sharks. Newcastle have come up against the Sydney Roosters on 58 occasions, and on Sunday they’ll face the Sharks for the 58th time as well. This will also be the second time the Brailey brothers Jayden and Blayke will face each other, after the earlier meeting this season.

PREDICTION

Whilst Newcastle sit two points above the Sharks heading into this clash, the Sharks have arguably been the better side this season. They’ve scored more points and allowed less in, resulting in a much superior for and against (-60 Sharks & -139 Knights), but the NRL is a funny old competition and a win here for the Knights will give them a four-point break over the Sharks. Although you could say the Sharks will be the more desperate of the two sides, the Knights who are coming off a 10-day break should be the fresher of the two sides, and also have the advantage of a more experienced spine, which should be enough to see them home. Knights 1-12

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