Date: Saturday, 6th April, 2019
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park
Kick Off: 7:35pm
Head Referee: Chris Sutton
Assistant Referee: Chris Butler
Head-to-head: Played 92 Eels 42 Sharks 48 Drawn 2
Odds: Eels $2.00 Sharks $1.85
Last Four Encounters:
Sharks 22 Eels 20 Endeavour Field 2018)
Sharks 14. Eels 4 ANZ Stadium (2018)
Sharks 20 Eels 6 ANZ Stadium (2017)
Sharks 34 Eels 24 Endeavour Field (2016)
The Warm Up
Last week I posed the question, “Where are the Eels at?”
I believe we’ll get a more accurate measure this week.
It’s one thing to lift for a big performance against the defending Premiers. It’s another step again to back that up the next week against a highly professional side renowned for grinding out victories.
This Sharks team will be incredibly challenging for the Eels. History records the Eels losing their last five clashes against the Shire fellas, so you have to go back to 2014 to find the last time that Parra got the choccies.
Cronulla may not be a flashy outfit, but they stay in the contest with well organised defence, then ask just enough questions in attack to keep their opposition under pressure.
For the Eels, that pressure might well be psychological.
Though it was only Round 3, Parra were champing at the bit to take on the Roosters. There was something special about taking it to the defending Premiers and the Eels were obviously pumped.
This week, it’s back to the tough task of relentless NRL Premiership footy. As teams discover far too often, if you don’t turn up mentally, expect to be beaten.
NRL games are typically won in the forwards and this clash will be no different. It might just come down to putting on some defensive hurt. The team that can physically intimidate their opponent will come out on top in this one.
Get ready to sit on the edge of your seat.
Having a Punt
Last week’s tip was very close to making it three weeks in a row in delivering the cash. The line of over 40.5 points was on the money, but the Eels let me down by allowing the Roosters get beyond the 7.5 points buffer.
I’m going to steer away from points scored this week and dip my toe back into the score a try at any time market. Take Mitch Moses @$4 with NSW TAB.
If you’re looking for big odds in the first try scorer market, taking Junior Paulo @$34 might not be so crazy.
The favourites for first try scorer are listed below:
Eels: Ferguson $8 Sivo $9
Sharks: Katoa $9 Feki $10
Feed Your Footy Brain
It’s early days, but at this stage the Eels seem to have found some answers to last year’s woes in both attack and defence.
After three rounds this year, the Eels have a +12 differential, having scored 72 points whilst conceding 60.
At the same time last year, the Eels were sitting on a -74 differential after scoring just 18 points with a whopping 92 against.
Maybe I should stop mentioning 2018.
Tracking: Jaeman Salmon
“The Apprentice”, “Fish”, “J-Man” – whatever you want to call him, his big opportunity is now.
The Sharks junior is lining up against a number of former team mates, in a match which will provide vital early season momentum for the victor.
Much has been made about the Eels vs Sharks SG Ball Grand Final back in 2017 – won by the Eels, but nearly stolen by Salmon. I was at that match and I can assure you that Salmon was as good as reports have since suggested.
Salmon has had another impressive pre-season, being one of the few to challenge Gutherson in the fitness stakes, whilst catching the eye at centre. He and Blake Ferguson looked to be developing their combination and the two could often be seen in conversation during breaks in opposed sessions.
Unfortunately for Salmon, that well publicised driving incident and the resulting one match suspension, provided the opportunity for Brad Takairangi to claim the right centre position. The versatile youngster would have to push his claims from the interchange bench.
Whether Salmon will be better suited to pivot, centre or backrow in the future remains to be seen. For now, he needs to provide the left side attack with a similar quality service to Dylan Brown. There’s no need to overplay his hand, just provide the same composure that’s been seen over the first three rounds.
His role in Brown’s try against the Dogs suggests he has maturity to do it.
Danger man: Bronson Xerri
It might seem ludicrous to nominate a young player making his debut as a danger man, but I’m going to declare now that Bronson Xerri is a superstar in waiting. If ever a bloke has looked destined to play Origin, it’s this Cronulla junior.
Xerri’s official profile page doesn’t list a height or weight, but I don’t need either listed to know that this 18 year old is already a powerfully built centre.
This kid possesses power, pace and a step, and would regularly leave a trail of destruction as he charged through defences during his junior representative career. He just seemed to have so many ways to beat an opponent.
Is he ready for an NRL debut?
The Sharks have made no attempt to shelter him from the media, and instead have featured the moment he was told of his debut on their social media.
They think he’s ready.
Eels : 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5.Blake Ferguson 6. Jaeman Salmon 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Tepai Moeroa
Interchange: 14. Peni Terepo 15. Tim Mannah 16. Kane Evans 17. Oregon Kaufusi 18. Ray Stone 19. Matt McIlwrick 20. Josh Hoffman 21. George Jennings
Sharks: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Morris 5. Sione Katoa 6.Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Paul Gallen
Interchange: 14. Blayke Brailey 15.Jayson Bukuya 16. Aaron Woods 17. Jack Williams 18. Scott Sorensen 19.Kyle Flanagan 20. Aaron Gray 21. Braden Hamlin-uele
The Big Clash: Junior Paulo vs Andrew Fifita
These two big men probably see themselves as five-eighths trapped in props’ bodies.
Both players enjoy carrying the football and also delight in initiating second phase play. Even more impressive, they are mobile units for their size and can hit the line a bit wide of the ruck to deliver the ball, and open space, to their support runners.
When Andrew Fifita is on his game, there are few players who can turn the momentum of a match as decisively as he does. Though he didn’t win the Clive Churchill Medal, few would question that he was the most influential player in the Sharks inaugural Grand Final victory.
The volatile Tongan international can intimidate his opponents in the collisions and in the next moment provide a point of difference in attack with clever offloads. By the same token, when he’s not focussed, those offloads fail to find the mark and become a liability for his team.
Fifita’s opponent, Junior Paulo, is just beginning to find his groove back in Eels colours. Impressively, he’s caught the eye as the link man delivering silky cut out passes as much as his capacity to offload in traffic.
The Eels prop might be one of the biggest in the NRL, but he possesses footwork that would be the envy of some outside backs. That step just before the line, along with his massive frame, makes him a difficult proposition for the Sharks defence, especially in the red zone. It might not be out of the realms of possibility for Junior to bag a try this week.
And The Winner Is?
I reckon I’ve changed my mind every five minutes about this clash.
No matter who wins, I believe that this will be a tight encounter with few points separating the teams.
The physical confrontation in the middle will determine the fate of this game. In the past, the Cronulla forwards used to rely on a bit of needle to get over their opponents, but I believe they’ve put a cap on that. Such tactics wouldn’t work against an Eels pack who’ve thus far demonstrated that aggression doesn’t mean losing composure.
Even without the likes of key players such as Manu Ma’u and Nathan Brown, the Eels pack looks to have the edge over the Sharks. On the back of that, Moses will be provided with the space to generate opportunities for the likes of Ferguson and Sivo.
Of course, all that will count for nought if errors rear their ugly head again.
I’m tipping the Eels by four in a low scoring encounter.
Eels 16 Sharks 12
Man of the Match – Junior Paulo