NRL Preview - Sharks v Tigers

Numerous storylines surround the Sharks v Tigers clash on Sunday, but the biggest one of all has to do with the winner progressing to week one of the NRL Finals, while the loser heads home to lick their wounds and to contemplate what might have been.

Yes, it could be Paul Gallen’s final NRL game, maybe the last for Robbie Farah if he plays through injury, the final outing perhaps for Benji Marshall if he decides to hang up the boots, while Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita return to Leichhardt Oval and where their rugby league journeys began.

But putting all that aside its about one team claiming the points and preparing for Finals, with the other getting an early mark on their spring break before attention turns towards 2020.

The significance of the game tomorrow afternoon certainly hasn't been missed by the Sharks playing group, in particular a focused and fired by Fifita. 

“It's a place I once called home,” Fifita said. "I used to love running out there seeing the hill jam packed. It's a historic place to play footy. 

"Me and Woods can reminisce about old times. It's going to be really enjoyable." 

However the enjoyment level will likely depend on the end result, with two teams fighting for one finals berth. 

"Our semi final has come a week early. I've got a job to do but I can't wait until Sunday. Whoever wants it more is going to come out on top." 

Utility Kurt Capewell was another acutely aware of the significance of Sunday's game. 

"I love afternoon footy, it takes you back to when you were a kid. It's going to be a massive crowd, a good atmosphere, I'm ready to rip an tear," Capewell said. 

"To get this win would be huge for us and we're capable of doing it. There's no second chances for us, we're going to put everything out there and hopefully get home."

In team news, while all the focus has been on Farah and his race to be fit in time for a potential fairy-tale finish to his Leichhardt Oval career, the Sharks have a couple of injury issues of their own.

Josh Dugan has been undergoing extensive concussion protocols all week an has been cleared to play on Sunday, with Shaun Johnson needing to overcome a leg problems before taking his place in the Sharks team.

Johnson training strongly at the Sharks Captain's run and was expected to play, with Kyle Flanagan, who also competed the final training session of the week, on standby should  the Kiwi international be unable to play. 

Matt Moylan has unfortunately failed to overcome his hamstring issue and will miss the game. 

Flanagan and Billy Magnolias will be 18th and 19th men for tomorrow's game, with Blayke Brailey and Moylan coming out of the 21 as named on Tuesday.

The two teams have waited until the final week of the season to meet for the first time in 2019, with their last encounter coming in round 14, 2018, in a game won by the Sharks at PointsBet Stadium.

That victory was the fifth in a row by the Sharks over the Tigers, their best winning streak against the joint-venture club, however less than eight points have decided four of those five games.

The Sharks will be aiming for three straight away wins against the Wests Tigers, while at Leichhardt Oval the Tigers have won five of eight against the Cronulla club. The Sharks did however win their most recent encounter at Leichhardt, a 22-16 triumph in Round 9, 2017.

While the Sharks have won four of their final six games to reach this point in the season, the Tigers come into the contest winning their previous two and similarly four of the past six matches.

The Wests Tigers have won seven of 11 matches as the home team this season, including both of their games played at Leichhardt Oval.

And while still on the statistics, the Sharks who are ranked third for most tries scored, line breaks and tackle busts, will be keen to build on any scoring opportunities which come their way, while the Tigers have scored the second highest percentage of tries from kicks in 2019 (24 of 82 at 29.3%) behind only the Panthers (31%), meaning the Cronulla fullback and wingers will need to be on their game on Sunday afternoon.

Last week’s golden point loss by the Sharks was their fifth this season by two points or less, with eight of the past 11 games decided by six points or less. Of the other three, two were victories (Warriors and Souths), one a loss to the Melbourne Storm.

Last Sunday against the Raiders marked the fifth time this season the Sharks lost the game after scoring more tries than their opposition.

As for the players, as mentioned, the game this weekend could be the last for Farah or Gallen, teammates at rep level, fierce adversaries on Sunday.

The pair played 13 Origins for NSW together, winning the series in 2014, as well as teaming up in six Tests matches for Australia.

Gallen will play his 347th NRL match, equalling Corey Parker for the sixth most games of all-time, with Farah having played 302 matches.

Josh Reynolds will play his 150th NRL game, Josh Morris will be looking for his 150th NRL win, while two former Tigers return to Leichhardt in Fifita who debuted in 2010 and played 39 matches over two seasons for the club, and Woods who first ran out for the Tigers in 2011, playing 146 matches over seven seasons.

This will be the first game back at Leichhardt for Woods and only his and second match against the Wests Tigers since departing the club at the end of the 2017 season.

Sharks Coach John Morris is another familiar with the Tigers and Leichhardt Oval, having played three seasons and 72 matches at the club between 2007 and 2009.

The Sharks and Tigers clash kicks off at 2.00pm on Sunday, with the two 19-man squads listed below.

Team Lists

Backs

  • Fullback for Wests Tigers is number 3 Paul Momirovski
    Fullback for Sharks is number 1 Josh Dugan
  • Winger for Wests Tigers is number 2 Robert Jennings
    Winger for Sharks is number 2 Sosaia Feki
  • Centre for Wests Tigers is number 17 Michael Chee-Kam
    Centre for Sharks is number 3 Bronson Xerri
  • Centre for Wests Tigers is number 4 Esan Marsters
    Centre for Sharks is number 4 Josh Morris
  • Winger for Wests Tigers is number 5 David Nofoaluma
    Winger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
  • Five-Eighth for Wests Tigers is number 6 Benji Marshall
    Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Shaun Johnson
  • Halfback for Wests Tigers is number 7 Luke Brooks
    Halfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad Townsend

Forwards

  • Prop for Wests Tigers is number 8 Thomas Mikaele
    Prop for Sharks is number 16 Andrew Fifita
  • Hooker for Wests Tigers is number 13 Ryan Matterson
    Hooker for Sharks is number 9 Jayden Brailey
  • Prop for Wests Tigers is number 10 Oliver Clark
    Prop for Sharks is number 10 Matt Prior
  • 2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 11 Luke Garner
    2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
  • 2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 12 Chris Lawrence
    2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham
  • Lock for Wests Tigers is number 14 Matthew Eisenhuth
    Lock for Sharks is number 13 Paul Gallen

Interchange

  • Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 9 Josh Reynolds
    Interchange for Sharks is number 8 Aaron Woods
  • Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 15 Elijah Taylor
    Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Kurt Capewell
  • Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 16 Alex Twal
    Interchange for Sharks is number 15 Jack Williams
  • Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 21 Robbie Farah
    Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Braden Hamlin-Uele