Date: Saturday, June 8, 2019
Venue: Points Bet Stadium, Woolooware
Kick Off: 5:30pm
Referees: Peter Gough, Chris Butler
Head-to-head: Played 91 Eels 43 Sharks 48
Odds: Sharks $1.55 Eels $2.50
Broadcast: Foxtel, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Eels 24 Sharks 12 ANZ Stadium (2019)
Sharks 22 Eels 20 Endeavour Field (2018)
Sharks 14 Eels 4 ANZ Stadium (2018)
Sharks 20 Eels 6 ANZ Stadium (2017)
The Warm Up
Parramatta’s victory over the Rabbitohs last Friday was a welcome change of fortune for the players, staff and fans.
Forget the missing Souths stars. It was a solid victory over the table topping club and the Bunnies threw more questions at the Eels than both the Cowboys and the Panthers had in the previous rounds. The Eels had to lift to get over a side high on confidence.
But as encouraging as the performance was, it remains frustrating that Arthur had to wield the selection axe to get the team to find the intensity and energy which had gone missing in the previous two weeks.
Therefore, the obvious question remains. Which Eels team will front up against the Sharks?
The club from the Shire are the antithesis of the 2019 Parramatta side. No matter what players take the park in their colours, they grind it out for the full eighty minutes.
Eels supporters know only too well that the Eels have been consistent in their inconsistency. Though it’s unrealistic to expect a pumped up, high octane effort on a weekly basis, it’s also fair to accuse the Eels of lacking energy in a few of their losses.
Cronulla are expected to be finalists this year.
We might get an indication of Parra’s 2019 ambitions in this one.
Having a Punt
The punt can be cruel. Last week I tipped Sivo to score two or more tries. He was off for the choccies after a lost ball in the first half, only to be called back for a knock on. The ball did touch his arm, so fair play to the refs. But after he scored his first legitimate try in the second half, I was cursing that near miss.
This week NSW TAB has a special offer coupling Feki or Sivo to be either first or second try scorer @$3.00. That has to be worth a dabble.
The favourites in the first try scorer market are:
Eels: Ferguson $11 Sivo $11
Rabbitohs: Feki $10 Gray $10
Feed Your Footy Brain
The Eels win over the Sharks earlier this year ended a five match losing sequence.
The Sharks have been notoriously slow starters this year. In fact, four of their victories have come after being behind at half time.
In contrast, five of the Eels six victories have come after leading at half time. They have only turned a half time deficit into a victory on one occasion this year.
Tracking: Nathan Brown
A fit Nathan Brown is exactly what the Parramatta middle needs. The Blue and Gold Cyborg is a relentless and mobile football machine, programmed to deliver equal parts aggression and skill.
But there’s a key word – fit.
After sustaining a pectoral injury in the Eels round 1 victory over the Panthers, Brown has endured three months of rehabilitation with very little physical contact. It would be tough to expect him to deliver much more than a couple of stints off the bench.
Nonetheless, for whatever periods he’s in the action, expect the Eels lock to provide some defensive impact and to add skill to the Eels forward play.
Welcome back Nathan. You’ve been missed.
Danger man: Andrew Fifita
Here’s a little bit of Mathematics for you.
Andrew Fifita + Suspect Middle Defence = Potential Chaos
This is the equation facing the Eels this week.
Even with game breakers such as Xerri and Moylan in their backline, there’s little doubt that the Sharks will attempt to break the Eels apart through the middle of the park. And a big mobile forward such as Fifita will pose the greatest threat.
The Sharks prop is incredibly mobile for his size and is averaging around 111 running metres per game in 2019. But his greatest threat is his capacity to promote second phase footy. Fifita’s offload statistic is nothing short of remarkable at 3.2 per game, with a stunning season high of 9 offloads in one match.
By comparison, the Eels own big man – Junior Paulo – averages similar running metres at 110 per game, but his renowned offloading ability is yielding a lower return of 2.4 per game. That’s more than a decent number, and gives a reasonable indication of how well Fifita is travelling.
The solution to the equation is simple. Shut down Fifita and reduce his numbers.
Sharks: 1. Matt Moylan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Dugan 5. Aaron Gray 6. Kyle Flanagan 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. Jack Williams 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele 18. Scott Sorensen 19. Sione Katoa 20. Wade Graham 21. Shaun Johnson
Eels: 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Josh Hoffman 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Will Smith 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Kane Evans 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Manu Ma’u 13. Tepai Moeroa
Interchange: 14. Peni Terepo 15. Ray Stone 16. David Gower 17. Marata Niukore 18. Brad Takairangi 19. George Jennings 20. Tim Mannah 21. Nathan Brown
Chad Towsend vs Mitch Moses
Perhaps this should be sub-titled Mr Consistent vs The Flash.
Mitch Moses probably wins the talent contest by a knockout, but Townsend is both the consummate professional and the embodiment of the Sharkies’ attitude. He’s there for the long haul, he’s going to grind out a points victory over his opponent nine times out of ten. And he literally does it by stealth.
It’s not that the Cronulla half is without talent. He’s got a precise kicking game, and his ball skills have that important component – composure. As a halfback, Townsend epitomises the modern day game manager. In truth, his ability to consistently guide his team around the field is exactly what the Blues need from their halves.
In contrast, an on-song Mitch Moses is the stuff of headlines.
But interestingly enough, Moses also embodies the attitude of his team – rocks and diamonds! On a positive note, those precious gem games have been more plentiful in 2019 than in 2018. Such highs have produced 13 try assists and 11 line break assists up to the halfway point of the season. Compare this to Townsend who has only delivered 7 try assists and 4 line break assists and you probably get an idea of how dominant Moses has been in those Eels victories.
So why did Brad Arthur give Moses the directive to run more often?
Despite those dominant performances, and a number of long distance breaks, Moses has only averaged 47.5 running metres per game. His opponent, Chad Townsend, averages more at 49.4 running metres. For someone of Moses explosive speed, this is not nearly enough.
Last week reminded the fans, and Moses himself, just how potent he can be when he takes on the line.
Will he keep that mindset for this week?
And The Winner Is?
This match is literally Rugby League 101.
The contest will be decided by the team that wins the middle, has a decent completion rate, kicks to the corners and chases with a straight defence line. When executed with energy and composure, such foundations will ultimately provide the field position to launch attacks.
These footy essentials are what the Sharks do best.
Cronulla maintain their focus, no matter what shows on the scoreboard.
The Eels need to begin with intensity, and they play best from in front. The Sharks seem to thrive on adversity – they’ll battle to the 80th minute and being behind on the scoreboard rarely seems to affect their play.
With players returning from injury, this is a strong Sharks team. The Eels have the capacity to beat them, but after winning the opening two games of the season, they have failed to produce any level of consistency.
It gives me no joy, but I have to tip the Sharks on their home ground.
Sharks 22 Eels 18
Man of the Match – Andrew Fifita