Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Two sides that had to come from behind last weekend clash in a Saturday night blockbuster in the Shire, as the Cronulla Sharks look to climb back into the top 8 up against the second-placed South Sydney - who themselves are trying to stay in second spot.
Despite fighting back from 14-6 down, Cronulla wore the brunt of their fans' fury as they struggled to a 16-14 victory against the North Queensland Cowboys last Thursday night. The Sharks dominated possession and a bunch of other stats but they struggled to break through the Cowboys' defence with errors coming at inopportune times. Their generally poor form line hasn't been helped by not having key players Matt Moylan and Wade Graham which have been a big blow to the Sharks' chances.
The ire of Cronulla's fans has been in part at the less than impressive performances from Chad Townsend and Shaun Johnson in the halves, with many concerned about the choices the pair are making on the field and the lack of running game from Johnson. The Shire-based side have had a slow slide down the NRL ladder to the point that they sit in 10th spot, albeit just one point outside of the top eight.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs sit second, but it hasn't been all smooth sailing at Redfern with the Rabbitohs having a come through a rough patch of form through the Origin period, where they lost four straight matches prior to the bye before bouncing back with three straight wins. The Rabbitohs have had to do it the tough way in their three victories, surviving a fightback from the Manly Sea Eagles then having to come from behind against the Cowboys scoring three tries in the 10 minutes - then last week needing to win the game in the 80th minute against the Dragons.
At the time this preview was written, the Bunnies will be boosted by the addition of Sam Burgess to the squad whilst the rest of the line-up is pretty stable. They're are starting to find some form but they will need to start putting the 80-minute performances which they have been lacking. Cronulla welcome back Moylan, Fifita and Graham this week - which more or less sees them full strength.
Last meeting: Round 13 2018 - Rabbitohs 22 Sharks 14
Who to watch: As mentioned, the ire of Sharks fans have been well and truly placed on the Sharks halves and the experienced Chad Townsend has copped his fair share of the treatment. He's a strong player who was expected to compliment Shaun Johnson, but the pair have been disappointing together and Townsend's choices in attack have come under fire. A key stat to note is that Townsend has had just one try assist in his past five matches and defensively has come under plenty of scrutiny too.
Since making his Origin debut, Cody Walker has had a pretty quiet mid-part of the season which has been a bit of a concern for Souths, because Walker was a key part of the South Sydney attack in the early section of the season, and was leading try scorer for a long part of the year before going nine rounds without a four-pointer. Walker by any stretch of the imagination hasn't been poor, but still he needs to step up his form to take the pressure of Reynolds and Cook if the Bunnies want to stay in second spot.
The favourite: Unsurprisingly, the Rabbitohs have come up the favourites for the clash given the differences in form of the two sides as well as the ladder position. The thing that would favour the Sharks however, is that Souths have only won once at Shark Park since 2010.
My tip: Everything says the Bunnies should win but there's just something in me that wants to lean towards the Sharks in this one. Boosted by the returns of Andrew Fifita, Matt Moylan and Wade Graham, Cronulla will be looking to put in a performance that will silence the criticism of the fans. The Rabbitohs have been riding their luck in recent weeks and that is bound to run out sooner rather than later. Sharks by 4.
1. Matt Moylan 20. Ronaldo Mulitalo 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Dugan 5. Josh Morris 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Aaron Woods 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Kurt Capewell 15. Jack Williams 16. Andrew Fifita 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele
1. Adam Doueihi 2. Dane Gagai 3. James Roberts 4. Braidon Burns 5. Campbell Graham 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Sam Burgess 13. Cameron Murray 14. Liam Knight 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Ethan Lowe 17. Kyle Turner
Referees: Adam Gee, David Munro; Sideline Officials: Mark Bohan, Tim Roby; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;