KEY MATCH UPS | Sharks v Roosters
The five-eighths – Jack Bird v James Maloney
Jack Bird squares off with the in-form James Maloney in a match-up where the youngster got the better of his opposite number when the sides met earlier in the year, in round five.
This fixture was one where Bird made his first appearance in the Sharks ‘6’ shirt, as he impressed all onlookers in recording remarkable stats and making his top-flight presence felt.
The 20-year-old scored two tries and laid on another for fellow Sharks young-gun Valentine Holmes in a showing that caught an unawares tri-colours side off guard.
Although Bird’s recent outings have not drawn the same attention he remains a constant threat in the backline – leading the Sharks with seven Linebreak assists – and a man that the Roosters will heavily target come Sunday afternoon.
Maloney meanwhile will again be out to stake his claims for a State of Origin recall as he partners current Blues five-eighth, and Roosters halfback, Mitchell Pearce in the halves.
Maloney leads the Roosters’ numbers for linebreak assists (8) and will be sure to test the Sharks right-edge defence – including, Jack Bird. His defence though will also be asked plenty of questions, in leading the NRL for missed tackles (40) the Sharks will be sending plenty of traffic Maloney’s way.
In a battle of youth versus experience, Bird will make just his ninth appearance in the NRL against Maloney’s 143rd.
The props – Andrew Fifita v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
In the battle of the big boys, Andrew Fifita will be out to impress to ensure he earns an Origin II jersey when he squares off with Kiwi hard-hitter Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
Fifita has been a strong force in a Sharks pack that again must fire against the in-form Roosters forwards. The NSW prop leads the club for tackle busts (39) and averages the second most metres of all Sharks players.
He and his fellow middle-third Sharks players must lift though if they are to contain JWH, who is arguably the best prop in the game when at his best.
The 26-year-old Kiwi missed the clash through injury when the Sharks and Roosters last did battle in round five, and his absence was telling as the tri-colours were monstered by the Cronulla pack.
Waerea-Hargreaves’ metres – coupled with his offloads – will add another dimension to the Roosters attack to the one that went down against the Sharks earlier on this year.
The backrowers – Wade Graham v Aiden Guerra
The ‘C’ next to Wade Graham’s name drops this week, but rest assured that his performance will remain as strong as it has been in the weeks prior to Paul Gallen’s return.
Graham leads the Sharks stocks for 1-on-1 tackles and his defence will again be tested by the likes of Blake Ferguson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall on the Roosters right edge.
The Sharks co-captain will be out to impress after featuring in a collectively disappointing result against the Dragons last Sunday.
Graham’s opposite number this week comes in the form of Maroons hard man Aiden Guerra. Like Graham, Guerra gets through a mountain of work, and he too will be out to put in a showing to again earn himself a place in Mal Meninga’s side for Game II.
Graham and Guerra both have a happy knack for scoring a try at crucial stages in a match. Look for both backrowers to be hitting holes close to their opposition’s goal line when the chance presents itself.