CRONULLA SHARKS V NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS – 5PM (NZT)/3PM (AEST) @ SHARK PARK, SYDNEY
The Storylines: There’s still three rounds to go but we’re already down to the ‘mathematical’ scenario as far as the Warriors’ finals chances are concerned. In fact, most fans and pundits have completely written them off and begun the 2019 postmortems.
And that’s understandable.
A gutsy, season-best win over Manly in Round 21 was bookended by awful 40-point losses to Canberra and Sydney Roosters.
Nevertheless, the Warriors are still alive…though three straight wins over tough opposition, along with other results falling their way, are required.
An injury reshuffle contributed heavily to the 44-6 defeat to the Roosters, but it was hard to make excuses for the Warriors’ stuttering attack and flagging defensive resolve.
Their performance with the ball in hand should be bolstered by the return of first-choice trio Issac Luke, David Fusitu’a and Patrick Herbert, along with Chanel Harris-Tavita hopefully being allowed to stay in the halves.
Cronulla, meanwhile, is in a near must-win situation approaching this weekend. The Sharks slid into eighth with an ugly victory over struggling St George Illawarra last Sunday, but they will likely need to win at least two of their remaining three games to book a playoffs spot, with games against Canberra and Wests Tigers to come.
The other selling point to this showdown is Shaun Johnson v the Warriors. He had a hand in two tries when the teams met in Wellington recently but was not particularly impressive in a tight Sharks loss.
Ins and Outs: Issac Luke, David Fusitu’a and Patrick Herbert all return for the Warriors, which allows Jazz Tevaga to return to the lock and sees winger Adam Pompey drop back to reserve grade. Herbert comes straight in for the injured Gerard Beale after a couple of games in reserve grade following a layoff.
Lachlan Burr shifts back to the bench, with Ligi Sao dropping out of the 17. Kodi Nikorima has again been selected on the bench with Chanel Harris-Tavita remaining at five-eighth.
For Cronulla, Matt Moylan is sidelined again which sees Josh Dugan move to fullback. Andrew Fifita returns in a huge boost to the home side’s pack.
The History: Played 39 – Sharks won 22, Warriors won 17
-The Sharks have won nine of their last 12 against the Warriors.
-The Warriors’ only win in their last five visits to Shark Park came in 2015 courtesy of a last-minute Shaun Johnson try.
-Six of the teams’ last seven encounters were decided by four points or less.
-The Warriors have not topped 20 points in their last 12 games against the Sharks.
-None of the teams’ last seven clashes have produced more than 38 points.
3 Key Match-ups
Chanel Harris-Tavita v Shaun Johnson: The Warriors’ heir apparent faces off against the club’s former linchpin. It’s been a stratospheric rise for CHT in recent weeks, going from biding his time in reserve grade to all but being handed the keys to the team. Johnson’s first year in the Shire has been mixed, but he has played a few match-turning hands lately and remains one of the chief reasons why the Sharks are a title dark horse.
Issac Luke v Jayden Brailey: Luke’s dummy-half presence during his three-week suspension was sorely missed in the losses to Raiders and Roosters – Jazz Tevaga, as much as we love him, just isn’t an NRL standard hooker. Off-contract and fishing for a new deal, Luke’s ban couldn’t have come at a worse time, but he was on fire in his last game against the Eels. Newcastle-bound Brailey isn’t the flashiest No.9 going around but he is one of the most reliable.
Adam Blair v Briton Nikora: As the Warriors found out in Wellington, young Kiwi Nikora is one of the most potent edge back-row runners in the game and his combination with Johnson is lethal. Surprisingly, Blair has sporadically stepped up as an attacking threat for the Warriors since Tohu Harris’ injury. This is an individual battle the Warriors need to win – because the Wade Graham v Isaiah Papali’i second-row match-up on the other side shapes as a landslide.
— Pam Whaley (@PamelaWhaley) August 18, 2019
Last Time They Met: The Warriors did it tough against the Sharks in Wellington a month ago – falling 18-10 behind courtesy of a pair of ludicrous missed forward passes – but snatched a gritty 19-18 win via Kodi Nikorima’s and Blake Green’s late heroics…and an Andrew Fifita brain explosion.
— NRL (@NRL) July 19, 2019
The Roosters have covered just 4 of 12 as a double digit favourite. The Roosters have covered six of seven at the SCG. The Roosters average 36.57 at the SCG . The Roosters cover just 41% of day games. The Warriors have covered nine straight games away from Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered 12 of 15 away from Mt Smart as an underdog. The Warriors have covered 8 of 10 off conceding 16 or more. The under is 12-2 when the Warriors are a road underdog of 8 or more. The under is 27-16 when an underdog of 12.5 or more off a win of 7+.
TAB’s Best Bet: Warriors +7.5 @ $1.90
The Verdict: The Warriors’ recent form has been wildly inconsistent even by their standards, while Shark Park is an unwelcoming venue and the hosts are desperate for a win. But this match-up seems to suit the Warriors – particularly with the confidence of a backs-to-the-wall win against the Sharks five rounds ago to draw upon. The Sharks are dangerous but flighty. The Warriors look a different team with CHT at five-eighth and they’ll benefit massively from Luke’s return and having some added attacking punch out wide. We’re backing them to stay alive for another week. Warriors by 6