Round 9: Wests Tigers v Sharks preview - 2017 Round 9
Tigers look to keep momentum at home, Sharks attempt to bounce back after surprise defeat
Four weeks ago the matchup between the Wests Tigers and Cronulla would have been viewed as one that the reigning Premiers should win fairly comfortable, however the recent good form of the Wests Tigers under new head coach Ivan Cleary has galvanised the joint venture outfit and it will be primed for another big showing this coming Saturday night.
Since Cleary has taken over, the Tigers have recorded two wins under his guidance (against Canterbury 18-12 and North Queensland 26-16) and pushed Parramatta all the way in between those two victories.
There is an obvious fight in the Tigers side now that it severely lacked earlier in the season. Despite players that will be moving on at the end of 2017, they appear to all be on the same page and who knows what they can achieve if this stays the same in the remainder of the season.
The Sharks were flying high prior to last week's shock 16-12 defeat to the Gold Coast Titans having dispatched both Melbourne and Penrith without conceding a try in the previous fortnight. That all dissipated on Saturday night where the sharks was well below its best. Despite dominating large periods of the match the Sharks looked flat and void of energy. Even despite the defeat the Sharks still have a commendable 5-3 records after the first two months of the season and are within striking distance of the top four. Look for it bounce back swiftly from last week's hiccup, that said it will be a tricky away trip to Leichhardt Oval a venue it hasn't won at since 2008 and has recorded just 10 wins in 29 trips to the inner city ground.
Gerald Beale returns for the Sharks which bumps Kurt Capewell back to the bench, whilst Luke Lewis takes his place in the second row after missing last week's tilt against the Gold Coast. Tony Williams, Fa'amanu Brown and Edrick Lee have been added to an extended bench
Last meeting: Round 5 2016 - Wests Tigers 26 Sharks 34
The Sharks and Tigers met just the once during the 2016 season with the Sutherland Shire based club getting the spoils by eight points. The 2016 premiers have had recent success against the Wests Tigers by securing four wins in the last six meetings. However the Tigers had absolutely dominated proceedings before that by winning 13 of the previous 14 meetings.
Cronulla have scored 170 points in the last six matches against the Wests Tigers at an average of more than 28 points a game.
Who to watch: Look out for another explosive effort by the Tigers forward pack as it attempts to lay a platform for its backs against the rampant Sharks pack. Departing Prop Aaron Woods who was booed by some areas of the Tigers fan base ran for a mammoth 203 metres in his 63-minute performance on Sunday against the Bulldogs. Adding to this was his solid defensive work which included 30 tackles whilst he added three tackle busts with his offensive play. Woods dominated with his runs through the middle and created some nice second phase play via his offloads which caught the Bulldogs defence off guard. He will need to do similar things this week against the Sharks who have some big bodies in the middle but do struggle to defend against unstructured attack.
Youngster Jayden Brailey has been a revelation for the Cronulla Sharks in season 2017 with his defensive solidarity combined with talented playmaking ability making him an early favourite for rookie of the year. Despite not doing anything special in last week's loss he controlled the middle of the field and made 40 tackles. It also interesting to note that the one of the two late tries scored by the Titans were when Brailey was off the field. Despite not showcasing it too much this season, Brailey has great running ability with superb pace. If the Tigers get lazy around the ruck then he can burn them through the middle of the field. His combination with his forward pack and halves is improving by the week and if you're a Cronulla fan get excited because there are better times to come for the little number nine
My tip: Despite being at home this Sharks team should bounce back in this week's clash. The Tigers have shown heaps of improvement but did win the game against the Bulldogs very late. The Sharks forward pack will cause them issues and if the Tigers can't dominate the middle of the field then trouble will be brewing for the home side.
Regardless, this should be an intriguing battle between two sides that can score points, at a beautiful suburban ground and two very valuable competition points on the line. One not to be missed. Sharks by 8.