Round 20: Sharks v Rabbitohs preview
Sharks look to bite back against in-form Rabbitohs
The Cronulla Sutherland Sharks are looking to bounce back in the winners circle as they take on the in-form South Sydney Rabbitohs in one of the matches of the round at PointsBet Stadium on Saturday evening.
Cronulla were at times unlucky on Saturday night against the defending premiers. Despite an early advantage, Penrith were able to wrestle momentum back straight after half-time and take control of the contest. It seemed at times Cronulla were overplaying their hands trying to put points on at every opportunity instead of grinding Penrith away as they did in the opening quarter of the game.
One shining light was Connor Tracey the self-proclaimed Mr Fix It of the Cronulla backline has played everywhere he's been required and hasn't put a foot wrong all season. Moving forward, their pack was unable to arrest the domination of Penrith's forwards after such a strong opening, that task gets a whole of a lot harder against South Sydney who are looking to keep a four point gap on the top eight. Nicho Hynes' kicking game was tactically good, but just wasn't good enough to defeat Penrith, so this game against an in-form Rabbitohs side could be the game that elevates him to an elite half in the competition. On the team front, they're without Dale Finucane who failed to get off at the judiciary this week. Cam McInnes will likely start at lock with Aidan Tolman firming to nab his bench spot.
Despite a shaky period in the middle of the season, it's safe to say any doubts about South Sydney have been put away to one side with an impressive recent month claiming the scalps of Parramatta, Newcastle, Canterbury and Melbourne. Although their defence in the Newcastle and Canterbury games would've had reasonable cause of concern for Jason Demetriou, they bounced back with a solid defensive game plan. If they can shut down Cronulla's strike players in similar fashion, it'll go a long way to victory and security inside the top eight.
South Sydney have maintained their perfect July record this season with four straight victories and will be looking to end the month with a big victory over Cronulla away from Homebush. Their performance last week defeating a vastly understrength Melbourne showcases their ability to defeat sides that are around the log-jam fighting for places 5-8 in the competition. Latrell Mitchell was back at his scintillating best and with the forwards finally giving their backs a platform these last few weeks, Souths have reached their potential and are firing at the right end of the season. On the team front, only the one change with Mark Nicholls out of the side, replaced by new signing Daniel Suluka-Fifita up front, who starts for the first time at NRL level.
Who to watch: When Cronulla let go of Jayden Brailey in 2019, the pressure cooker position of dummy half was thrown on the shoulders of younger brother Blayke Brailey. It's safe to say that he's smashed all expectations placed upon him and has been an underrated player for the Sharks in season 2022. Brailey has averaged 42 tackles a game this season at an efficiency rate of 95.3% and is a noted runner of the football. He was quiet running last week against the premiers but once he gets a sniff around the markers, he can turn the game on it's head.
After being hooked against the Dragons in Round 15, Lachlan Ilias has come back from the experience a much better player and the saviour of the Rabbitohs that many fans and experts predicted him to be. He's bounced back with a great kicking game giving the Rabbitohs much needed guidance in attack, having the support of Latrell Mitchell has allowed Ilias to be more composed and calmer throughout the attacking third. Ilias can be the difference to give Souths a much needed win to secure a place inside the top eight.
The favourite: Cronulla are the favourites for this clash of the giants. Souths have a poor record at PointsBet Stadium since 1998 winning only 5 of the 18 clashes between the two sides at this venue.
My tip: With both sides in red hot form this season, it's expected this clash will be a blockbuster as they try to stamp their claim on making the finals this season. However, with Cronulla red hot at Shark Park this season, my crystal ball has the Sharks winning this one comfortably even with forward leader Dale Finucane sidelined through suspension. Sharks by 12.