With both sides impacted by a number of call-ups to the State of Origin squads, this game could suffer from a lack of cohesion and will likely be settled by whoever copes better with the disruption to normal service.
The Sharks will be without James Maloney, Wade Graham, Jack Bird and Andrew Fifita while the visiting Bulldogs will lose Brett Morris, David Klemmer and Josh Jackson for the clash with the third-placed Sharks.
The home side has won their last two clashes against the Bulldogs, the first time they have lodged consecutive wins against Canterbury since 2000 which was accomplished with a 20-18 win last year. However, the Bulldogs have the form guide on their side having won 16 of their last 22 games against the shire-based Sharks.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
The Sharks come into this clash having won three games on the bounce and 7 of their last 8 games in the league after a tough, tight 18-14 win over the North Queensland Cowboys at home. That said, their last four matches have all been decided by single-figure scores, which, alongside the fact the Sharks have not conceded more than 18 points since their round one loss to the Broncos, is a testament to their stellar defensive efforts, even if their attack has yet to really click.
In the absence of James Maloney, halfback Chad Townsend will take the bulk of the organizational work alongside the promoted Fa’amanu Brown and young hooker Jayden Brailey who has impressed with his clean-cut style of footy since making his debut.
There will also be a big expectation on leaders like Paul Gallen, Chris Heighington and the explosive Valentine Holmes to turn on the fireworks and dominate both the middle of the park and attack the fringes with determination.
The Bulldogs have lost their last two games on the bounce following a 30-14 loss to the Cowboys and a 24-18 heartbreaker against the Roosters though they were hardly embarrassed in either effort. The clash with the Roosters was an especially close contest, decided late by a stellar Mitchell Pearce try and the effort shown will give coach Des Hasler something to build on in the absence of his Origin stars.
Overlooked for an Origin shout, Josh Morris can be expected to have a strong performance as he tries to put himself back into the shop window should the Blues lose game one while Will Hopoate, Moses Mbye and the disappointing Michael Lichaa will bear the brunt of the creative responsibility alongside rookie pivot Matt Frawley.
In the engine room, Aiden Tolman and James Graham always deliver strong efforts and this week should be no exception as the pair look to contend with the Sharks’ big men in the middle of the park while the pair, and the rest of the Bulldogs pack will need to get through plenty of defensive work in order to be competitive against a Sharks side trying to find a consistent groove with ball in hand.
The money is probably still flowing toward the Sharks, but for mine they will be more heavily affected by the loss of their Origin stars with Maloney their most creative and destructive attacking force while Andrew Fifita has been the forward to carry his team on his back more often than not. On that basis, give me the Bulldogs by less than a converted try.
Who do you think will cope better with the loss of their Origin stars in the clash between the Sharks and the Bulldogs? Let us know in the comments below.
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