NRL Preview – Sharks v Eels

As Shaun Johnson said on Wednesday at the weekly media session, the focus of the team will now be to extend the golden period which produced five tries and an emphatic victory in Townsville, to 80 minutes or as close to that as they can get when the Sharks take on the Eels on Saturday night.

After an error-riddled first 40 minutes the Sharks turned the game against the Cowboys on its head last week, controlling the ball, busting their opponents open and racing to a match-winning lead with a scintillating 20-minutes of attacking rugby league.  

The same could also have been said of the win over the Titans in round two, with four tries in the back end of the first half seeing the Sharks race to a commanding lead, before mistakes littered their second period performance.

This weekend, against an Eels outfit that struggled to make an impact in 2018 but who have shown great improvement through their opening three matches in 2019, the Sharks opposition might not be so lenient if they only perform for a portion of the contest.

“They are a good side, playing some really good footy,” Johnson said about the Eels. “But for us it’s about extending the 20-minute window we are playing to 80 hopefully and if we continue to focus on improving each week, we’re confident we can get the job done.”

In what shaping as a physical clash between two in-form teams, the match will also be significant for the fact that young gun Bronson Xerri makes his NRL debut, the 18-year-old to slot into the right centre position, with Josh Dugan to make the shift to fullback in place of the injured Matt Moylan.

Xerri, who has come through the junior ranks at the Sharks, becomes Cronulla’s 529th First Grade player, with the experienced Josh Morris expecting big things of his centre partner.

“He’s had a really good pre-season, he performed well in the trials, all the boys are confident in his ability and are looking forward to seeing how he goes,” Morris said.

As for a few words of wisdom from an NRL veteran to the debutant.

“All the boys are fully behind him, whatever decisions he makes we’ll back him, so just back yourself and enjoy yourself,” was to be Morris’s advice.

The two teams will also play for the Johnny Mannah Cup, in honour of the former Sharks and Eels front rower who sadly passed away from Hodgkin's lymphoma in January of 2013.

The Sharks have brought home the trophy from the last four games it has been contested, while they will also be aiming for a sixth straight win against the Eels.

If past results however are anything to go by the game will be a keenly fought, four of the past five matches having been decided by 10 points or less, with the Eels clawing back from a 22-4 deficit in Round 9 last season before going down 22-20.

Also in the Sharks favour, at least on the stat sheet, Cronulla have won five of seven matches played at ANZ Stadium between the two clubs.

If they do hope to win however, as pointed out by Johnson, the Sharks, ranked last in completion rates, errors and penalties conceded, with need to sort out their discipline issues against an Eels team that has shown great commitment early in 2019.  

In a blow for the Sharks skipper Gallen has been ruled out of the team as named on Tuesday, with coach John Morris having the option of using either Jack Williams or Jayson Bukuya as his replacement in the lock position.

Braden Hamlin-Uele is the other player omitted from the originally selected 21 for the match which is scheduled to kick off at 7.30pm at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

The Sharks 19-man squad is listed below.

 

NRL Team List – Round 4
Sharks v Eels
Saturday, April 6
ANZ Stadium
Kick-off – 7.30pm

1. Josh Dugan

2. Sosaia Feki

3. Bronson Xerri

4. Josh Morris

5. Sione Katoa

6. Shaun Johnson

7. Chad Townsend

8. Andrew Fifita

9. Jayden Brailey

10. Matt Prior

11. Briton Nikora

12. Kurt Capewell

17. Jack Williams

Interchange

14. Blayke Brailey

15. Jayson Bukuya

16. Aaron Woods

18. Scott Sorenson

19. Kyle Flanagan

20. Aaron Gray