Key match ups – Sharks v Titans
Summary: Shane Flanagan’s side will be out to make amends after a run of consecutive losses, as Cronulla head north to face the Titans who have won at three from their last four outings.
The Gold Coast stole a last-gasp win over the Sharks in Round four of the 2015 season.
As the side preps to tackle the Titans once again – and this time away from Remondis Stadium – we take a look at the key match ups that stand to influence the end result.
The Fullbacks - Ben Barba v Josh Hoffman
Ben Barba returned to his familiar ‘Number 1’ jersey last week having been used as the five-eighth – and then as an interchange player – in the prevailing rounds of the season.
Barba looked comfortable at the back, taking two bombs and making five tackle busts in an encouraging performance against the Warriors last Saturday.
In combining with young-gun Jack Bird, Barba’s 80-metre bust brought the Remondis crowd to their feet, in a promising display that channelled memories of his Dally M form of 2012.
The Queenslander returns north of the Tweed Heads border for his first competitive match in the state since leaving the Broncos at the end of last season, and comes up against a side that he historically enjoys playing against.
Across his time at the Bulldogs and Broncos, Barba accumulated five tries in seven matches against the Titans. He will without doubt be looking to add to that tally again on Saturday evening.
If he is to cross the line though, he’ll have to beat the defence of his 2014 teammate, fellow ex-Bronco Josh Hoffman.
While Hoffman has been stopping tries at his own end, he also leads the Titans for tackle busts, with 29 from his nine appearances in 2015.
Hoffman and Barba will be looking to score tries, but also to stop them. Defence will be key in this match up – every point saved will be crucial in what looms as a tight affair.
The Centres – Blake Ayshford v James Roberts
Blake Ayshford marks his return to the NRL through the unfortunate injury to regular left-centre, Ricky Leutele.
Ayshford starred for the Sharks in the Auckland 9s tournament earlier on in the year, and he will be out to cement his place in the top grade after solid performances for the Newtown Jets during 2015.
He comes up against a red-hot James Roberts, who has crossed the line for 9 tries (2nd best in the NRL) – with two of those coming against the Sharks in round four.
Roberts also has three try assists to his name, and coupled with his 27 tackle busts this season, the centre is in contention to be a Blues bolter for the opening Origin fixture.
This centre duel will go a long way towards determining the end result. If given time and space to roam, Roberts has shown he has the ability to punish defences quicker than they can react to shut him down.
The robust, rangy Ayshford must be on his game to contain the speedster – and if he does so, the Sharks’ task will be made that little bit easier.
The Lock forwards – Luke Lewis vs Lachlan Burr
Luke Lewis will again don the ‘13’ in Paul Gallen’s absence and this week he squares off against the 22-year-old Lachlan Burr.
Lewis has starred since returning from a ore-season injury, scoring four tries in seven games and again looking likely to be named in Daley’s Blues side for the May 27 Origin opener.
Lewis’ work-rate has been commendable, averaging 26 tackles and 80 run metres in 2015. Playing a different role to that of the previous seasons, Lewis has taken a step back in attack and figured often at key moments.
Burr meanwhile has 22 missed tackles (3rd most at the Titans), and he must make amends to deny the probing dummy-half runs of Michael Ennis.
This match up is a battle of the experienced versus the new brigade, and whoever can stand up and dominate the middle-third will go a long way in earning their side the two competition points.