Many have said that this weeks clash presents an opportunity for the Sharks to benchmark themselves against the best team in the competition. That may have been the case a month ago. But now I see it the other way around. With the Sharks in blistering form and clear at the top of the table, I would argue it is a chance for the Cowboys to benchmark themselves against the Sharks.
In the last month (most recent first) the Cowboys have had a win over Newcastle, a loss against St. George with a depleted side, a one point win against the Broncos and a one point loss to the Storm. This is hardly the type of form that puts them leaps and bounds ahead the rest of the competition.
Couple all of this with a trip to Shark park where Cronulla are unbeaten this year collecting wins against the Storm and Broncos, it proves that it if you want to head down to ‘The Shire’ and come home with 2points you have your work cut out.
Both sides are well rested coming off a long turn around to a Monday game. So the benefit for both teams and spectators is that we should get fresh players throwing plenty at each other. The other benefit for both sides is they are both attacking teams. Either side are comfortable conceding 20 points when they are confident they can score 20+. And both sides believe they can score 20+. If weather conditions suit there could be some points put on.
So let’s start with the Sharks:
Led by their captain the sharks are such an exciting mix of the perfect two pronged side. What I mean is they are big up front and no doubt in the opening minutes Lewis, Graham, Gallen and Fifita and going to try and sort the Cowboys out. Not only that their forwards all have ball playing ability, they can pass and Luke Lewis even has a decent kicking game. Thurston has already come out and said he expects Cronulla to try and beat them up a bit. Then if after 15 minutes that game plan doesn’t stick, well you have a pretty handy back line steered around by Ennis and Maloney who can go wide searching for holes.
There are two key players for the Sharks in this match up:
Barba – When Ben Barba hit the hole last weekend against the dogs he burst into the backfield like he had been shot out of a cannon. This is the Barba of 3 years ago and if he has finally got back that explosive ‘off the mark’ pace, teams will be in trouble in the back end of the year. Secondly Fifita is a great off loader of the ball. And if there is one thing we know the Cowboys don’t handle brilliantly is second phase. Barba will be poking his head around where Fifita and Gallen run and if he gets half a gap…
Ennis – He provides vital go forward from dummy half. I get the feeling he is on a mission to prove to Laurie Daley that he got the Origin rake selection wrong, and what better way to do that than show up a top four side. If Cronulla are going to win up the middle the service Ennis provides to his mobile pack will be the key.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is a must win, but from the outside looking in, just like the Broncos, it seems a heavy 2015 coupled with a heavy rep. period has the potential to trigger a bad patch. So what do the premiers do? . Well firstly they obviously need Tamou and Scott to stand up. And they need JT MKII (Jason Taumalolo) to try and split Maloney and Graham up. There is one thing the Cowboys do in attack that I have noticed a lot if sides don’t do; And that is they are prepared to run a block play 40 metres out from the line. They aren’t afraid to go expansive early and it is no secret Maloney has the worst defensive record in the game. So a game plan for Green might be to go expansive early and try to draw Lewis and Graham out of the middle of the park to protect Maloney. If you throw plenty of traffic at Maloney you at least nullify a couple of their forwards and might free JTMKII and Asiata up to do what they do. Finally expect them to stick to the Formula. Scott and Taumalolo on for 20 minutes, then resting until the 60th minute to come back. Thurston linking with Cooper. Morgan running two wide. And maybe a Lachlan Coote cross kick for Feldt thrown in for good measure.
The key players for the Cowboys:
Thurston – No doubt when you are playing the toughest game of the season so far you need your leader to stand up. Thurston is getting better at allowing some of his younger players to try things in games. But in a big game like this expect him to get plenty of touches. The formula in big games is the more Thurston has the ball, the better chance they are.
Scott – The other co-captain. It is up to him to hold the Cowboys together in the middle. Gallen and Fifita chew up metres, and Scotts role is clear. Hold the middle third together and get them going forward. If Scott and Thurston play their roles the rest should fall into place.
Even though all sides that go on a run must eventually lose, I am not so sure this is the week Cronulla lose. At home in blistering form it is honeslty hard to see them getting toppled. Then again if the Cowboys complete their sets and stick to their formulas I’m not sure they lose either. It’s a chance for the Cowboys to stake their claim, once again, as the best in the comp. Each week I make a prediction, but this week I can’t. I can’t split them, so the only thing I am going to predict is a cracker of a game! Bring on Monday night football.