It could be the beginning of the end for either of these sides this weekend. such is the logjam on the NRL ladder, it is virtually sudden death football from here on in.
• 3 – The Warriors need to win all three of their remaining fixtures to have any chance of qualifying for the finals.
The Warriors’ heavy loss to the Roosters last weekend leaves little hope that they can challenge for the Top 8 anymore. The Sharks, who have been flitting in and out of the Top 8 all season, have managed to do just enough over the last few weeks to keep themselves in the hunt.
• 4 – The Sharks have the second-worst win/loss record in their last 10 games of any side in the Top 8 other than Souths, winning just four games in that period.
• 2 – The Warriors have won just two of their 11 games against Top 8 sides this season.
A loss for the Warriors will all but consign them to also-ran status for 2019, frustratingly giving the naysayers yet more reason to vent on social media about the demise of the side this season compared to last.
• 2 – After spending every single week of last season in the Top 8, the Warriors have not featured in the top half since Round 2 of this season.
This will be the 40th fixture between these two sides, with the Sharks holding a 22-17 lead in matches against the Warriors.
• 9 – Nine of the Sharks’ victories have come in the past seven years.
• 3 – The Warriors have won just three of the last 12 games in this fixture.
Statistically speaking the Warriors haven’t had a great time of it in the past decade against the Sharks in Sydney either.
• 6 – The Warriors have won only six of their 19 games against the Sharks in Sydney.
• 3 – The Warriors have won just three games in Sydney against the Sharks since 2004.
However, last time out it was the Warriors who picked up the two competition points in Wellington courtesy of a 75th-minute Blake Green field goal.
• 1 – Remarkably, Green became the first player in the 2019 Warriors squad to kick a field goal in their first grade career in the 19-18 win over the Sharks.
• 4 – Six of the last seven games in this fixture have been decided by no more than four points.
David Fusitu’a and Patrick Herbert return to the Warriors’ starting line-up and expectation will be high that they can reignite the right-side attack. Hooker Issac Luke also returns from a three-game suspension, allowing Jazz Tevaga to revert back to his favoured lock position.
• 125 – Despite a lack of tries this season, David Fusitu’a is actually enjoying the second-best season of his career in terms of running metres, his 125 metres per game second only to his 135 metres per game in 2016.
• 0 – Issac Luke’s attacking spark has been missing out of dummy-half this season, and he is yet to provide a try assist for any of his teammates in 2019. To put this in context, he was averaging seven try assists per season when he was at the Rabbitohs, including a career-high 14 in 2013.
The Sharks are renowned for their grind and keeping games tight. Wade Graham has been in outstanding form since his return from a long injury layoff, a real dangerman down their left side and a key figure in their attack, whilst boom rookie Bronson Xerri has been sensational in his first season of first grade.
• 18 – The Sharks have scored 18 or more points in five of the six games that Graham has played in this season.
• 6 – Xerri has scored in each of Cronulla’s last six home games.
Shutting those two players down as well as the enigmatic Shaun Johnson will be the keys to getting the wood over the Sharks. Johnson has shown signs he is finding his groove since the narrow loss to the Warriors five weeks ago.
• 6 – Shaun Johnson has provided six try-assists since the last time these two sides met; in comparison Warriors playmakers Chanel Harris-Tavita, Blake Green and Kodi Nikorima have provided just four between them.
Despite their valiant efforts in the latter part of this season, two 40-point thrashings in recent weeks do little to help build belief that there is a genuine football side hiding in there somewhere.
• 22.9 – The Warriors are conceding 22.9 points per game this season, but have conceded 34.6 per game over the past three games.
• 104 – The Warriors have conceded 104 points in the past three games.
Again the Warriors will look to the statistically absurd Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who was once again outstanding in a losing side last week. He must still be seriously in the running for back-to-back Dally M Player of the Year awards such has been his contribution this season. He features across the board in all attacking facets of the game, alongside the super-impressive Ken Maumalo.
• 424 – Tuivasa-Sheck is in first place for the most runs in the NRL with 424, 25 clear of teammate Maumalo who has 399 runs.
• 4,127 – The duo also hold the top two spots for the most run metres, Tuivasa-Sheck running for 4,127 metres (the second-highest total in his career for a single season), with Maumalo not far behind with a massive 3,943 metres so far this season.
• 1,090 – 1,090 of RTS’s running metres are from his kick returns, which places him third overall for 2019.
• 106 – RTS sits in second place for the most tackle breaks with 106.
• 32 – Not just a running machine, his 32 offloads put him in 10th for the most this season – one of only three backs in the top 10 and the only fullback.
• 13 – And with 13 line-breaks, he is sixth overall in the NRL. Maumalo is second with a dominant 16.
The Warriors have stayed in Sydney for the week to try and minimise the travel factor, possibly attempting to replicate their form from their month away from home in July.
• 4 – After winning four games in a row plus a draw in Australia, the Warriors have lost their last two games across the ditch.
Neither of these sides has shown anything that suggest that they deserve to be in the finals, either side can beat the other on their day – but knowing when that day will be is anyone’s guess. The pressure is all on the Sharks here as the incumbent finals side, with the Warriors all but gone except for a minor miracle.
The Warriors didn’t get to use their new halves pairing of Harris-Tavita and Green last week due to Gerard Beale’s season-ending injury, so this has to provide some optimism.
Another stat worth noting is the Adam Blair factor.
• 14 – Blair has won 14 of his 17 games against the Sharks. Including the last six straight.