Round 15 NRL Match preview

Some left town to rest up and recharge, others stayed in and around the Sharks home base and turned up for a couple of non-compulsory strength and conditioning sessions, while others were busy with rep round commitments, with the Cronulla side having an usually long mid season break. 

Sharks coach John Morris gave his players the first week off, before they reassembled on Monday in preparation for a crucial encounter with the Bulldogs on Sunday.  

“We’ve had 17 days off between games with the stand down round. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Morris said.

It seems like an age ago when the Sharks last took to the field, their previous game coming in Canberra against the Raiders on Thursday, June 13. 

This Sunday, as Morris explained, some 17-days later, the Sharks will hope to have put the disappointment of the Canberra loss behind them, while the aim will be to right a couple of the problems that have plagued them through the first 14 rounds of the season. 

“It was disappointing we didn’t get the job done against the Raiders,” Morris said.

“Our biggest issue is the way we’re starting games. Obviously 20-0 down after 23 minutes (as the Sharks were against the Raiders), the old saying is you cant win a game in the first 20 minutes but you can lose it. We’ve really got to address that.

“The other one, defensively we’re probably giving away too many cheap points at the moment. We’re conceding four tries a game, which is probably one try too many.” 

Helping the Sharks cause both Wade Graham and Shaun Johnson will return from their respective representative matches with a spring in their step, while Aaron Woods is rated better than 50-50 of playing his first game since breaking a bone in his foot back in round four. 

Morris wasn't ready to declare Woods a certain starter but there is good chance the rep front rower will be a part of the Sharks 17. 

“He’s trained a couple of times this week but with a fracture he still needs that clearance from the Doctor. We’re hopeful he’ll take to the field. He’s edging closer and he’ll be keen to get out there,” Morris said. 

The Sharks go into the game on the back of a five-game winning streak against the Bulldogs, however three of those matches decided by two points or less.

When comparing statistics, interestingly despite sitting on the bottom of the ladder, the Canterbury side has made the fewest errors and has the highest completion rate in the NRL this season. The Sharks are ranked toward the bottom in the same categories but have the second most line breaks, with the Bulldogs are ranked in the bottom three.

The Sharks have won three of seven matches away from home this season.

In some plays milestones, Bulldogs prop Aiden Tolman will play his 250th game in the NRL after making his debut for Melbourne in 2008, with Sharks skipper Paul Gallen moving to equal seventh for all-time games played, alongside former teammate Chris Heighington (338 matches).

Josh Morris faces his former team for the first time since joining the Sharks this year. He played 217 matches for the Bulldogs.

In team news, the Sharks have retained Woods and young half back Kyle Flanagan in their 19, with Scott Sorensen and Aaron Gray dropping out of the 21-man squad as named on Tuesday. 

The Sharks and Bulldogs kick off at 4.05pm at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.