NRL Grand Final week begins
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Refreshed Sharks Look To Make Statement Against Broncos In Potential Finals Preview
While many often rightfully lament the effect that the origin period has on the NRL regular season, it does provide teams with a lack of representative calibre players with a chance to make up some ground on their opponents.
It seems silly, then, that the Cronulla Sharks, sitting in equal-second on the table after 13 rounds, will only have one player backing up from State of Origin, that of course being their star halfback Nicho Hynes, who will likely be coming off limited minutes (the game may well be over by the time you're reading this).
While Hynes is the obvious standout, it is a testament to the Sharks and coach Fitzgibbon that they have been able to assert themselves as a competition heavyweight without a plethora of rep talent at their disposal.
That being said, there are still question marks surrounding Cronulla, particularly their defence, and the Broncos will provide a good measuring stick for where they are at considering they're currently in the top 4 for points scored per game.
Brisbane will come into this game with potentially 5 players backing up from a gruelling game 1 just three days earlier. It remains to be seen how many front up for the game, but as it stands Walsh, Cobbo, Flegler, Haas and Carrigan have all been named to start.
It's no secret that the Broncos forward pack is one of if not the best in the competition, and on another day they probably have a clear advantage on paper over their opposing numbers, but it is hard to see the big names getting through their usual workload so soon after Wednesday night.
Last meeting: Round 8 2022 - Broncos 16 Sharks 7
Who to watch: On that note, considering Haas, Flegler and Carrigan will be at least somewhat compromised, a lot will fall onto the shoulders of Kurt Capewell to keep the engine running for the Broncos. Having been an origin starter for Queensland last season, Capewell was a selection snubbing this time around due to an indifferent start to 2023, and there's no doubt that extra little chip on his shoulder helped him to one of his best performances of the year against the Warriors. He ran for 161 metres (64 post-contact) against the Kiwis, both personal season highs by quite a distance, and was much improved in defence from his poor game against the Panthers, making 33 tackles with only 3 misses. The Sharks back-rowers have been on a tear lately, so Capewell will need another solid performance on both sides of the ball if Brisbane are to keep the Sharks in check.
One of the more unsung members of the Sharks forward pack has been Parramatta recruit Oregon Kaufusi. Since making the switch to the Sutherland Shire, Kaufusi has been solid and reliable and is exactly the kind of player every contending team needs to have. Kaufusi is never going to be a big minute player, but he can give a team a good initial 25-minute stint before coming on for another 15 late in the game as required. In the Sharks last game against Newcastle he had 9 runs for 114 metres, 3 tackle busts and an offload, and so far this season he's defending with a tackle efficiency rate of over 95%. Usually, Kaufusi coming up against a front row of Haas and Flegler would be a mismatch, but I think he can really take advantage of the intimidating duo being perhaps a little underdone after origin.
Favourite: The Sharks are 4.5 point favourites at the time of writing.
My tip: Keep it simple, Sharks are at home off a bye and have 5 times fewer players backing up from an extremely physical state of origin match three days earlier. Sharks by 12.
1. William Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Siosifa Talakai 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Oregon Kaufusi 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Royce Hunt 11. Briton Nikora 12. Teig Wilton 13. Dale Finucane 14. Wade Graham 15. Jack Williams 16. Thomas Hazelton 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele 18. Braydon Trindall
1. Reece Walsh 2. Jesse Arthars 3. Kotoni Staggs 22. Corey Oates 4. Herbie Farnworth 6. Ezra Mam 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Flegler 9. Billy Walters 10. Payne Haas 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Jordan Riki 13. Patrick Carrigan 14. Cory Paix 16. Kobe Hetherington 17. Martin Taupau 19. Brendan Piakura 23. Tristan Sailor
Referees: Todd Smith; Sideline Officials: David Munro, Cameron Paddy; Video Referees: Kasey Badger;