Round 20: Sharks v Rabbitohs preview - 2017 Round 20
Premiers look to bounce back against plucky Rabbits
Cronulla is the venue for prime-time Friday Night football with the home side Cronulla desperate to get back in the winners circle against the visiting South Sydney outfit.
The Sharks know that a loss here could really dent their chances of making the top four, and will definitely have a fresh memory of last year where they slipped out of the minor premiership race on the back of a three-game losing streak and won just one of the last five games of the regular season. Last week's loss against the Gold Coast Titans came as a surprise to many. However, the Sharks were well below their best all game. Dropped balls, lack or organisation and the persistence of inside balls to Valentine Holmes didn't help their cause.
They come back home where their form has been indifferent (four wins, five losses) against a Souths side that's season is over. If the Sharkies want to stamp their authority on the Premiership then this is the game to do so. The return of James Maloney should help the home side and if they click into gear it could be a long night for the Rabbitohs.
Paul Gallen was again one of the Sharks best last week as he ran for 188 metres from 21 hit ups, 50 tackles and three offloads. The G-Train isn't slowing down at all...
Souths season stuttered to a bleak halt on Sunday in Cairns with another uninspiring defeat this time to North Queensland (23-10). Despite scoring the opening try, it was all the Cowboys from then on in as dropped ball (Souths completed just 68% of their sets) and missed tackles (34) sent Souths packing. In all honesty, the 13-point defeat flattered the Rabbitohs who could have been beaten by a much larger margin.
They come into his game arguably in a much better place than recent weeks though. With the pressure off, it could come out and surprise a few critics so the Sharks will need to be on their game.
Souths are at their best when they create second phase play from offloads and get the ball into the hands of Cody Walker and Alex Johnstone looming around the ruck. That kind of off-the-cuff style of play will trouble Cronulla who are a good defensive unit against structured attacking teams.
Souths were just one of the teams that cashed in on the Sharks season ending slump in 2016. It registered a 12-6 win at ANZ Stadium it what was a pretty dour game. The last six matches between the two sides have been split three a piece. The Sharks won the last clash at SCGS (18-10) in what was commonly known as "Sharknado" as cyclonic conditions hit the Shire in 2015. Souths have won just 12 times in 42 visits to the Shire so history is not on their side, they need just three tries for 100 tries at the ground.
Who to watch: The Sharks replacement hooker James Segeyaro has had a difficult 2017 with injury limiting his time on the field. Now with the Sharks missing young hooker Jayden Brailey for the foreseeable future with a broken jaw, Segeyaro's input becomes even more valuable. Superb out of dummy half and catching opposition defenders out of position, Segeyaro will need to create attacking opportunities himself as well as providing both James Maloney and Chad Townsend with quality ball. Looking to spark his career, Segeyaro is a key off the bench on Friday.
Souths have had a hard year, however one of the bright spots has been the play of Cody Walker at fullback. Walker started the season at five-eighth and excelled there but with the loss of Greg Inglis to a knee injury Walker shifted positions and made a seamless transition. His ball playing ability from the back is classy and adds another dimension to Souths attack. His form has been up and down the last month and what better way to get some consistency then a man of the match performance against a fellow Sydney rival. Walker's stats tell the story of his successful campaign as he has four tries, 14 try assists, 12 line breaks and averages 15 runs and 114 metres a game.
My tip: Hard to see Souths getting a result here after what they have displayed in recent weeks. One advantage is that the Sharks home form has been ordinary this season and they are a tad flat after a physical Origin period. Tough arm wrestle that the Sharks just nab. Sharks by 7.