KEY MATCH-UPS | Sharks v South Sydney
The Sharks and Rabbitohs are set to do battle for the first time since Round 7 of 2015, and for the first time in an NRL’s finals fixture.
In a match where so much is at stake for both clubs, we look at the match-ups across the park that stand to tell the tale of the tape at the end of the 80 minutes in a match which will ultimatley end the 2015 season for the losing team.
THE CENTRES | Gerard Beale v Dylan Walker
In breaking his try-scoring drought late last month against the Cowboys, Gerard Beale has come to life in recent times and will once more prove an attacking threat come Sunday afternoon.
In striking up a formidable combination with his outside man Valentine Holmes, Beale has consistently asked questions of opposition defences in 2015, but perhaps it has been his work off the ball that has been the most influential in the side’s recent successes.
Beale will be under plenty of pressure to contain his opposite man, Souths’ Dylan Walker, and his outside partner Alex Johnston.
Walker has crossed for 12 tries this season and has laid on 3 others, and Beale will likely be put on alert from the opening whistle at the weekend.
THE HALFBACKS | Jeff Robson v Adam Reynolds
It goes without saying that the man who wears the number ‘7’ shirt goes a long way in deciding the fate of his team in any NRL match, let alone a finals fixture.
Jeff Robson is set to square-off against one of the NRL’s leading play-makers this week in the form of Souths’ Adam Reynolds, a man with a proven track record of seeing his side home in the season’s biggest matches.
Reynolds proved a key figure in his team’s 2014 premiership run last season, and will play his 9th finals fixture inside just four seasons in the top grade this weekend. Having seen success in six of his last eight finals matches, Reynolds’ influence on Souths’ performances has been immeasurable. Watch for his short kicking game to ask plenty of the Sharks defence come Sunday.
Robson meanwhile has featured in seven previous finals matches in his career, including the 2009 grand final for the Parramatta Eels. With Greg Inglis set to return at the back for the Bunnies, finding the grass and setting a wall of defence will be Robson’s chief task on Sunday, and one that if done well, will go a long way in helping the Sharks towards a win.
THE BACK-ROWERS | Luke Lewis v Chris McQueen
The evergreen Luke Lewis will face a tough task in containing a rampaging Chris McQueen this weekend, with the Queensland Origin representative having already shown his damaging abilities against the Sharks in 2015.
McQueen crossed for a try when the sides met in Round 7, while being denied a second, on a night when the Sharks got the best of the defending premiers.
Lewis also crossed the stripe for points that night, and has consistently done so throughout all of the 2015 season. Proving a key member of the Sharks’ attacking raids close to opposition goal lines, Lewy has also shown his prowess from inside his own half – his razzle-dazzle lead-up work to Holmes’ ‘No try’ last week a stark reminder that there’s plenty of life left in the legs.
A premiership winner with the Panthers in 2003, Lewis’ experience in the ‘big moments’ could – and most likely will – prove crucial to the Sharks hopes this weekend.