Round 5: Sydney v Cronulla preview
Patched up Roosters and Sharks chase back-to-back victories
With three time premiership winner Luke Keary sitting in the stand alongside halves partner Lachlan Lam, an air of uncertainty hovered over the Roosters heading into last week's clash with the Warriors. It didn't take debutant Sam Walker long to settle the nerves, and a clever ball to set up a Nat Butcher try only added to the hype surrounding the prodigious teenager.
While Walker received plenty of wraps after the comfortable victory, it was anything but one way traffic. Once again James Tedesco and the Morris twins had their fingerprints all over the scorecard, but the turning point owed itself to resolute defence. Having kept the Warriors at bay for three consecutive sets when the game was in the balance, the Roosters rebounded quickly then raced away for their third win of the season.
This week Trent Robinson has named the same 17 as the club shoots for its sixth straight victory over Cronulla. And with a blockbuster against Melbourne to follow, a win this week will ensure the Roosters remain in touch with the competition pacesetters.
In a season where the disparity between the elite and also-rans continues to grow, Cronulla have proven they've got the tools to mix it with the best. Last week at Kogarah with Chad Townsend calling the shots, the Cowboys were blown off the park by six first half tries.
Completing at 84 per cent, the Sharks' big men dictated terms while reliable service from Blayke Brailey allowed Townsend and Matt Moylan to run amok. Will Kennedy reveled in the extra space to notch a double while fellow outside backs Connor Tracey and Mawene Hiroti played their best games of the season.
This week Tracey's all round skills will be utilised off the bench in the only change that sees Jesse Ramien named to start at centre.
With the Knights and Bulldogs to follow, a strong showing this week against the more fancied Roosters may be enough for Cronulla to finally bed down John Morris' long-term future in the Shire.
Last meeting: Round 19 2020 - Roosters 34 Sharks 18
Who to watch: Both teams are flush with skills out wide, so the middle third will be no place for the faint-hearted.
In a further motivation for the Roosters, this week Angus Crichton runs out for his 100th NRL appearance. After 55 games for the Rabbitohs, the wide running back-rower is now one of the Roosters' most reliable. Last week's season high 188 metres against a strong Warriors pack included four offloads and is the type of form sure to excite the Blues selectors.
With just over 20 NRL games under his belt, Toby Rudolf is fast developing into one of the Sharks' most accomplished forwards. Despite wearing the No.13, the 25-year-old patrols the middle more like a front-rower. And with an engine capable of going the full distance, his aggression and output each week guarantees Cronulla always start on the front foot.
The favourite: Yet to taste defeat at home this season, the Roosters are heavily backed to make it three straight at the SCG.
My tip: There's lots to like about the Sharks go-forward and blistering backline but with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves coming off the bench and Victor Radley better for last week's run, the Roosters resilience will be tough to crack. In what promises to be a rough and tumble affair, expect the Roosters to repeat last week's formula and get by with too much class in the closing stages. Sydney Roosters by 10.