Elinya Chenery previews the opening game of the final bye round of the season …
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Vs Melbourne Storm
Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Sydney
Date: Thursday July 7th, 7:50pm
MATCHDAY TEAM NEWS
Related: NRL Team List TuesdayEmbed from Getty Images
Sharks: 1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Connor Tracey 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Toby Rudolf 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Royce Hunt 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Dale Finucane 14. Aiden Tolman 15. Cameron McInnes 16. Teig Wilton 17. Andrew Fifita 18. Braydon Trindall 19. Jesse Colquhoun 20. Kade Dykes 21. Braden Hamlin-Uele 22. Lachlan Miller
Connor Tracey returns in the centres for his first game since Round 12 in place of Siosifa Talakai, who is absent through State of Origin duties. Braden Hamlin-Uele has been named in the extended reserves after recovering from a pectoral tear sustained in the Sharks’ last meeting with the Storm back in Round 6.Embed from Getty Images
Storm: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Dean Ieremia 3. Marion Seve 4. Justin Olam 5. Grant Anderson 6. Nick Meaney 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Chris Lewis 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Josh King 14. Tyran Wishart 15. Tui Kamikamica 16. Alec MacDonald 17. Jordan Grant 18. Bronson Garlick 19. Young Tonumaipea 20. Jack Howarth 21. Jayden Nikorima 22. Tyson Smoothy
Cameron Munster and Harry Grant will miss Thursday night’s clash after both being named in the Maroons side for the final State of Origin game, with Nick Meaney and Brandon Smith respectively replacing them. Felise Kaufusi has been given time off for personal reasons.
Referee: Adam Gee
A top-four clash, the Thursday night match between the Sharks and the Storm is shaping up to be a battle for the ages. With a grand final between them six years ago – in which Cronulla were two point victors – the rivalry is intense whenever these two proud sides meet. Playing once previously this season, the Storm came away with the spoils in a convincing 34-18 win that featured a Justin Olam double: but who will come away with the two points this time?
With Nicholas Hynes available to steer the team around at halfback for Cronulla after being pushed to the extended reserves for State of Origin (upon Jack Wighton’s return to the representative arena), the battle of the number sevens against Jahrome Hughes becomes an integral part of the match. Facing his old club and being widely regarded as the “buy of the season”, Hynes’ speed and excitement will be put to the test against the cool-headed game management of Melbourne’s Hughes.
Despite the wet and wild conditions expected to continue through Sydney this week, with both teams sitting above 75% completion rate for the season expect refined plays and fancy finishes. Despite floating comfortably within the top half of the competition, this game is a true indication of the Sharks’ place heading into the finals, as the Cronulla side has only beaten teams currently in the top eight twice this season. By contrast, with an established reputation as competition heavyweights, Melbourne would be looking to improve upon an unusually meek loss last week to the ninth-placed Sea Eagles.Embed from Getty Images
Despite only one win separating the teams this season, with Cronulla sitting on 10 and Melbourne edging ahead on 11, the Storm have 100+ extra points scored with 463, compared with the Sharks’ 334. This is particularly interesting when the tackle efficiency of both teams actually places the home team above the visitors by almost a full one per cent, and has the Sharks noted as conceding less points on average per game. For a team often praised for its excitement in attack, these statistics show a different story: Cronulla needs to find a way to score more points, which is no easy task against a machine like Melbourne.
Melbourne by eight.
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