Sunday’s matches for round 21 commence with the contest known as the Battle of the Beaches, pitting the Sharks against the Sea Eagles. The two adversaries will meet for the first time this season, as they renew hostilities in the Sutherland Shire.
The Sharks come into this match, having seen their three-match winning streak clipped by the Broncos, who were the last team to defeat them prior to the streak. The Sharkies certainly had enough opportunities to win the match, having seen more ball than their opponents. Unfortunately, some ill-discipline and gritty defence from the Broncos saw the Sharks return to the Sutherland Shire empty handed. Moreover, they were consigned to their 5th loss in their 6 recent watches with the Bronx.
The Sea Eagles also enter this match on the back of a narrow loss. Similar to their opponents, they had a golden opportunity to win their match against the Panthers. They held a seemingly commanding 24-6 lead with 13 minutes remaining. However, their poor defence came back to haunt them, as they squandered their match-winning lead, to go down 28-24. This loss consigned them to their third consecutive defeat.
Both teams will be eager to return to winning ways. Despite only one team destined to play in the finals, there is still an abundance at stake here. The Sharks will want to win, in order to maintain their chances of finishing in the top 4. For the Sea Eagles, they are only one win clear of the bottom of the ladder, and level on points with the Cowboys. Therefore, at this stage they would love nothing more than to avoid their first ever wooden spoon. The men from the northern beaches would feel very confident in making this trip to Southern Sydney, as they have both a very impressive record against the Sharks, and a rather strong record in the Sutherland Shire.
2017 - Round 16 - Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 35 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
2016 - Round 11 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 20 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 12 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
2016 - Round 3 - Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 22 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 12 at Lottoland.
2015 - Round 26 - Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 14 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 12 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
2015 - Round 17 - Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 26 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 at Lottoland.
In the 5 most recent encounters between the two adversaries, the Sea Eagles have come out on top in 4 of these matches, despite the struggles of the men from the northern beaches in recent years. In fact, the Sharks have only beaten the Sea Eagles twice this decade. Moreover, out of the 99 overall encounters between the two rivals, the Sea Eagles have triumphed on 70 occasions, while the Sharks have emerged victorious on 26 occasions, along with 3 draws (2 of which occurred in the 1970s - 1971 and 1978, while the other occurred in 1991).
Speaking of the drawn matches in the 1970s, one of them was the grand final in 1978, which would end in an 11-all draw. However, heartbreakingly for Sharks fans, the Sea Eagles would claim a 16-0 victory in the Grand Final replay of that year. In 1973, the two adversaries would meet in a grand final for the first time ever, and it was etched in history as one of the most brutal matches for the premiership. The Sea Eagles would prevail 10-7. This means that the Sea Eagles have broken the hearts of the Sharks twice in deciders. As such, the Sea Eagles fans take immense joy in reminding Sharks fans of the aforementioned grand finals.
As for their record in the Sutherland Shire, the Sea Eagles seem to really enjoy their visits there, having returned to the northern beaches victorious on 22 occasions (out of 38 visits to the Shire, including non NRL matches). The only real time that the Sharks had any sort of of dominance over the Sea Eagles was between 1986 and 2007, when they won all their home matches against the men from the northern beaches in that period. Despite this, the Sea Eagles would still consistently pick up victories against the Sharks in matches played at other venues during the aforementioned period.
The only other time that the men from the Sutherland Shire had the ascendancy over the men from the northern beaches was during the failed Northern Eagles era in the early 2000s. Out of the 5 matches in that time, the Sharkies would win 80% of them, including an extremely rare win in 2002 at Brookvale Oval (now called Lottoland).
|Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks||Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles|
|1||Valentine Holmes||Tom Trbojevic|
|2||Sosaia Feki||Jorge Taufua|
|3||Jesse Ramien||Moses Suli|
|4||Ricky Leutele||Brian Kelly|
|5||Sione Katoa||Brad Parker|
|6||Matt Moylan||Dylan Walker|
|7||Chad Townsend||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|8||Andrew Fifita||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|9||Jayden Brailey||Manase Fainu|
|10||Matt Prior||Martin Taupau|
|11||Luke Lewis||Joel Thompson|
|12||Wade Graham||Shaun Lane|
|13||Paul Gallen||Jake Trbojevic|
|14||Scott Sorensen||Trent Hodkinson|
|15||James Segeyaro||Kelepi Tanginoa|
|16||Aaron Woods||Frank Winterstein|
|17||Jayson Bukuya||Taniela Paseka|
|18||Josh Dugan||Matthew Wright|
|20||Joseph Paulo||Jack Gosiewski|
The facts that matter
The Sharks saw their 3 match winning streak brought to a halt, with a narrow 12-10 loss to the Broncos, the same team who they last lost to, prior to aforementioned streak. The loss may seem heartbreaking, with centre Ricky Leutele had a try (correctly) overturned by the bunker, and it proved crucial in the final outcome. However, the Sharkies certainly had more than enough opportunities to win the match, having held 56% of possession and making more offloads than their opponents. Moreover, an inability to convert opportunities into points and some ill-discipline proved costly for the men from the Sutherland Shire, as they fell further behind in the race for a top 4 berth.
The Sharks are ranked very highly in defence, having conceded the 3rd fewest points in the competition (330). This is of minimal surprise, when you consider that they are streets ahead of the other teams, with regards to dominant tackles made, with 211. Moreover, despite having the second worst attack of the top 8 teams (behind the Warriors), the Sharks are certainly not to be taken lightly when they have the ball, given they are ranked 4th in line breaks (78), 3rd in offloads (231) and 4th in try assists (54). In addition, the Sharkies have made the 5th most intercepts, making 6 for the season. However, they must convert their opportunities into points.
Their home record is rather sound, winning 6 matches and losing 3. Those losses came against the Broncos, Roosters and local rivals, the Dragons. Despite their solid home record, this looms as a danger game for the Sharks, as the Sea Eagles have won 22 of 38 matches in the Sutherland Shire. There were matches where the Sharks would be defeated by the Sea Eagles at home, despite being higher on the ladder than the Sea Eagles. As such, they must not take their adversaries lightly.
The Sea Eagles saw their quest to end their losing streak evaporate before their eyes with only 13 minutes remaining. They were on track for a commanding win over the Panthers, having led 24-6 with little time to play. However, their season was summed up in that final 13 minutes, as they conceded 22 unanswered points, en route to a 28-24 loss. This shows that despite being more than capable of scoring points, their defence is in tatters to say the least. This heartbreaking loss saw the Sea Eagles consigned to a 6th consecutive loss at home, as well as being jeered off the field at full time by the paltry 6134 in attendance.
As emphasised previously, the men from the northern beaches have minimal trouble scoring points (379), despite their lowly position on the ladder. In fact, they have actually scored more points than their opponents for this match. Moreover, they are ranked 5th in offloads (223), meaning they are certainly dangerous when in possession. In addition, the Sea Eagles have made 2 x 40/20 kicks for the season, which is the 2nd most in the competition. However, their defence is simply atrocious, having conceded 472 points this season, which is the 2nd worst in the competition. Only the Knights have conceded more points. Moreover, the Sea Eagles have made 197 errors for the season, which is the 5th most, behind the Roosters, Cowboys, Storm and Titans.
Similar to their home record, the Sea Eagles are nothing short of deplorable away from home, having won only twice and losing 7 matches. Their only away wins all season came against the Panthers and Storm. On the flip side, those teams are firmly entrenched in the top 8, which should give them some confidence leading into this match. Moreover, they have a rather solid record at Southern Cross Group Stadium, as well as a very strong record against the Sharks. As such, they will head into this match with little fear, despite how poorly they are playing.
Whilst the Sharks are still very much in the race for a place in the top 4, they can ill-afford to drop another match, as they must pick up as many points as they can. The competition for a top 4 place is currently fierce, and their rivals for that coveted top 4 spot will almost certainly pounce on any slip up by them. Although their defence is almost impenetrable, they must make good on their opportunities when presented with them, as they found out last week against the Broncos. Given the torment that they have been on the receiving end of at the hands of their opponents throughout their history, you can be sure that they will absolutely hit their adversaries with all the force they can muster.
The Sea Eagles have never won the wooden spoon, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they will be eager to ensure that it doesn’t happen here. They are only one win clear of bitter rivals, the bottom-placed Eels. As such, they will be keen to get as far away from there as possible. The men from the northern beaches will undoubtedly be hurting after last week’s demoralising loss to the Panthers, and will be raring to unleash their pent-up frustration on their old rivals. They will be buoyed by the fact that they are their adversaries’ bogey team, and will be looking to continue their historical torment of the Sharks.
Whilst the Sea Eagles undoubtedly enjoy playing the Sharks, as history has depicted, and will relish their trip across the Spit, Harbour and Captain Cook Bridges to the Shire, their abysmal defence is too difficult to ignore. That’s not to say they won’t have a red hot go in this match. However, the Sharks have a top 4 spot to play for and you can bet they will be eager as anything to stay in the race for that, in order to maximise their chances of winning the premiership this year. Moreover, they are simply in much better form than their old adversaries. As such, whilst the Sea Eagles will almost certainly throw the kitchen sink at the Sharks, I just feel the Sharkies have the defence to absorb the Sea Eagles attack and will eventually punish the Sea Eagles for their poor defence. Therefore, I will tip the Sharkies to claim a rare win in the Battle of the Beaches, thereby sending the Sea Eagles back to the northern beaches empty-handed. Sharks by 10.