The Late Mail: Dragons v Wests Tigers
20 days ago | LeagueUnlimited Media
Cronulla look to bounce back from shock loss and go 5 from 5 at home
The Cronulla Sharks and the New Zealand Warriors will close out Round 9 this Sunday afternoon in The Shire. Despite the teams sitting 7 places apart on the ladder, there is only one win between the two teams, showcasing just how close the teams from 3rd down to 11th are to each other.
Despite a first round loss to the Raiders, the Sharks have bolted out of the gate this year. With solid wins coming against the likes of the Eels and the Sea Eagles, they have given their fans plenty to cheer for. In front of their home fans, they are four wins from four games at Shark Park so far this year, and they'll be hoping to keep that streak going when they host New Zealand this weekend.
This week though they're coming off a shock loss to the Broncos. Despite leading 7-6 at half-time, the Sharks failed to score at all in the second period, with Brisbane coming away with a 16-7 win. The loss was very much against their form line, and their coach Craig Fitzgibbon will be hoping that the momentum they had doesn't all go down the drain as a result. Bouncing back this weekend is critical to Cronulla's top eight or even top four hopes.
One player who has had a lot of media attention recently is second-rower turned centre Siosifa Talakai. With his now legendary first half display a few weeks back against Manly, talk about his potential to play origin has been rampant. If he wants a spot in Freddy Fittler's Blues then he needs to show that he can play consistently in the few weeks remaining before teams are selected.
In the forwards for the Sharks, captain Wade Graham made his long awaited return last week in his team's loss to the Broncos. Coming off the bench and playing just 23 minutes, he has been named to come off the interchange for the second week running this Sunday. In more good news for the Cronulla pack, Dale Finucane has been named to return from injury at lock.
The New Zealand Warriors have the right to be on a bit of a high right now, but need to be careful not to crash back down to Earth this weekend. A huge comeback win over the Raiders was exactly what the Warriors needed after an embarrassing showing against Melbourne two weeks ago. The 21-20 scoreline after golden point was despite the Warriors trailing by eight at half-time and not having led the match at any point throughout the 80 minutes.
In the end it was a field goal from halfback Shaun Johnson that sealed the golden point win for the Warriors. The 31 year old is yet to score a try this season despite playing every minute of 6 games so far, and will look to break that dry run this weekend. His match winning field goal however was his second of the season, after he kicked the Warriors to an extra time win against the Cowboys back in Round 5. Against his former club Johnson will want to put on a show this Sunday.
Warriors halfback Ash Taylor officially announced his early retirement at the beginning of the week. Having played 116 games and with a Dally M Rookie of the Year award to his name, he will be missed by the New Zealand side. However, the signing of former Cowboy Daejarn Asi to fill the hole created appears to be a good decision. Making his club debut last week against the Raiders, Asi racked up two try assists in just his 11th NRL game. He has been named to start his second straight game at five-eighth this Sunday.
In other team news, Kodi Nikorima has still not been named despite getting out of isolation after a positive covid test result on ANZAC weekend. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak returns on the wing after a head injury saw him miss last week's clash, while Aaron Pene returns on the bench following a one match suspension.
Last meeting: Round 21 2021 - Warriors 18 Sharks 16
Who to watch: Cameron McInnes is without a doubt one of the hardest workers in the NRL right now. With a tackle efficiency rate of 97.2% so far this season, the forward is well and truly back after his injury forced year on the sidelines last season. Starting the last three weeks in the run on team, he has been pushed back to the bench this week due to the return of Dale Finucane. Expect him to show his coach this weekend why he deserves to start.
Reece Walsh has moved to shut down rumours that he will cut his time at the Warriors short and join the Dolphins from next season. Telling Fox Sports that he will be playing for New Zealand next year is another big blow for Wayne Bennet's side, but it can only be a good thing for the Warriors. As the now consistent week-to-week fullback at the club, more responsibility is getting put on his shoulders every game. So far he is managing it well, and he'll look to keep that up this Sunday.
The favourite: Despite a Round 8 loss, the Sharks are strong favourites to win this weekend at home.
My tip: The Warriors showed a lot of fight last week, and if the Sharks are off in any way they will punish them. That being said, Craig Fitzgibbon's side must bounce back after their disappointing performance in Brisbane. Cronulla by 10.
1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Siosifa Talakai 22. Connor Tracey 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Toby Rudolf 9. Blayke Brailey 13. Dale Finucane 11. Briton Nikora 12. Teig Wilton 15. Cameron McInnes 10. Aiden Tolman 14. Jack Williams 16. Wade Graham 19. Andrew Fifita 21. Mawene Hiroti
1. Reece Walsh 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Viliami Vailea 4. Rocco Berry 5. Adam Pompey 6. Daejarn Asi 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Wayde Egan 10. Matt Lodge 11. Euan Aitken 12. Eliesa Katoa 13. Jazz Tevaga 14. Jack Murchie 15. Ben Murdoch-Masila 16. Bunty Afoa 17. Aaron Pene 18. Bayley Sironen
Referees: Todd Smith; Sideline Officials: Darian Furner, Dave Munro; Video Referees: Adam Gee;