Sharks Den Preview: Manly vs

A wise old coach (I believe Chris Anderson was his name) once declared that all you need to win a football match is two quality props and a halfback of high ability. Interesting and prophetic words indeed.

As we welcome you back, casual reader, all manner of distress has befallen what should be a jubilant Cronulla outfit. After systematically dismantling the overly robust Panthers (who predicted that one?), we now find ourselves lacking in both the front row and halfback stakes. Brett Kimmorley's suspect tackling style has finally caught up with him, and as a result, has earned him a week on the sidelines peeling oranges. Our two bookends have suffered similar fates; one, Danny Nutley, ousted for a lifting a man beyond the horizontal (before putting him down again, gently) and the other, Jason Stevens, still on the mend from a damaged knee.

And so it is that this threadbare team will travel to the old graveyard, Brookvale Oval, to take up arms against the old enemy, the Manly Sea Eagles. Manly showed rare moments of brilliance in an otherwise dour old match against the Warriors last weekend; enough to earn the two points anyway. And with Brookie a well known sore point in Cronulla's history, it appears all the odds are stacked in favour of the team from the north.

Manly have recruited well this season, rounding in every hot-head and sledger on the open market in an effort to make them the most hated team in rugby league again (with the Roosters around, they face stiff competition, however). Terry Hill made a stunning return to the top grade last week, and John Hopoate was back to his bad boy best. Ben Kennedy and Michael Monaghan gave the referee an ear bashing too, and with the rabid Manly crowd behind them, this team will take some beating.

Of course, I said the same of the Panthers last week, and look how that turned out. This one, however, could be a good deal more difficult.

First of all, we have Ryan McGoldrick marking Terry Hill. Hill successfully baited Clinton Toopi into throwing punches last week, and McGoldrick is a known hot head. If he's not careful, a few of Hill's sledges could push him over the edge too, and if there is one thing Cronulla don't need to do, it's to give away stupid penalties. On top of that, Hill showed that he can still play the game a bit, too, and both McGoldrick and his wing partner Luke Covell will need to be on their toes all game to keep him out of the end zone.

Having said that, Cronulla displayed a far more concerted effort in defence last week than any time last season, and this is a hurdle that Manly will need to overcome. They kicked a couple of handy forty twenties last week; albeit against a fairly lazy Warriors backline - they probably won't have that luxury this week. They'll also need to hold onto more ball than they did last week if they have any intentions of winning; the Sharks, dare I say it, were fairly impressive last weekend and won't let Manly get away with a sloppy performance.

The big question, of course, is centred around Cronulla's halves. Kimmorley and Dykes proved the doubters (like myself) wrong last week, but with Noddy now out of action, how will Dykes handle the pressure? Greg Bird didn't impress many people with his efforts at five eighth last season, can he show some worth this time around? And how about Cronulla's forwards? How will they fare without their two most experienced front rowers?

Answers will be forthcoming this Sunday afternoon. Chris Anderson claimed that you only needed two props and a halfback to win a football game... but then again, I never thought he was much of a coach anyway. I think Cronulla can do it despite their losses.

Prediction: Cronulla by 2