Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
The Sharks shoot for three straight as the Titans look for a much-deserved second win for the year
Cronulla have well and truly silenced those who doubted their chances of claiming back-to-back premierships this year with clinical displays against the Storm and Panthers. The Sharks held both sides to just two points whilst scoring 39 of their own and a win over the Titans this week could see them claim top spot on the ladder, provided other results go their way. However, despite the Gold Coast's recent woes, they could very well test Cronulla's much praised defence on Saturday night having scored the third most points in the competition. Yet, as well as boasting the second best defence in the competition, the Sharks also rank fifth in attack and they dominated the Panthers in both categories in last week's 28-2 win. Despite missing 40 tackles and making 15 errors, the Sharks cruised to victory, with their impenetrable defence frustrating the Panthers into an eighty-minute performance more fitting of Wooden Spoon contenders than premiership hopefuls. As a result, the Sharks are unchanged this week and are finally beginning to build momentum in their premiership defence.
Meanwhile, the Titans' 1-6 record to start 2017 is certainly not a reflection of their effort. Such was the case in last week's last minute loss to the Broncos. The Titans built an early 12-0 lead and were in front with just two minutes on the clock, before a Matt Gillett charge down saw James Roberts sprint away to break the Gold Coast's hearts. In a rare stroke of luck, however, their chances of turning that around this week have been bolstered by the news that Jarryd Hayne, Kevin Proctor, Konrad Hurrell and Joe Greenwood are chances of returning from injury layoffs. Yet, despite their bravery and fortune on the injury front, the Titans will need to tighten up their defence this week if they are any hope of an upset victory. The Gold Coast are conceding 29.4 points a game, the worst in the competition, and will need to be much better on Saturday night.
The Titans snapped the Sharks' 15-game winning streak with a tense 18-all draw on the Gold Coast in Round 21 last year.
Who to watch: For the home side, Jayden Brailey continues to get better every game and was impressive in last week's victory over Penrith. The young hooker made 41 tackles whilst also contributing in attack with a try assist and line break to his name. If Cronulla's big men like Andrew Fifita can make big metres and then follow them up with quick play the balls, look for Brailey to make a significant impact from dummy-half.
Tyrone Roberts has been named at fullback for the Titans, with his eventual position to be determined by Hayne's fitness. Yet, if Roberts does suit up in the No. 1 jersey on Saturday night, he needs to keep contributing in attack in order to spark his side against Cronulla's resilient defence. Roberts made a fast start to last week's win over Brisbane, setting up a runaway try for winger Anthony Don after showing some pace of his own. However, after that Roberts failed to have any real impact on the result. It is clear that Roberts has the potential to be a successful ball playing fullback for the Titans, but with Hayne's looming return look for Roberts to step it up this week. If Roberts is shifted from the starting side, another one to watch is prop Jarrod Wallace who enjoyed his best game of the season last week with an inspirational 264 running metres.
My tip: The last six meetings between these two sides have been decided by six points or less and I expect that trend to continue on Saturday night. This is a danger game for Cronulla, but look for James Maloney to separate the sides with a late field goal. Sharks by 1.
1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Kurt Capewell 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 14. Jayson Bukuya 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 17. Joseph Paulo 19. Sam Tagataese
18. Jarryd Hayne 2. Anthony Don 3. Dale Copley 4. Dan Sarginson 20. Konrad Hurrell 1. Tyrone Roberts 7. Ashley Taylor 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Nathan Peats 10. Ryan James 11. Chris McQueen 19. Kevin Proctor 13. Ryan Simpkins 14. Karl Lawton 15. Joe Greenwood 12. Chris Grevsmuhl 17. Leivaha Pulu