Cronulla coach John Morris is hopeful Matt Moylan’s hamstring issues will pass in time for the fullback to finally be part of a full-strength side ahead of the NRL finals.
These two sides have crossed paths a few times in the last few finals series. In 2015 the Cowboys flogged the Sharks to send them packing. In 2016 the Sharks beat the Cowboys in the Preliminary final on their way to their maiden Premiership.
The loser of this game will bow out. The Cowboys are without their talismanic leader in Johnathan Thurston but Michael Morgan and Gavin Cooper have refused to let the side give up, fighting every game out to the end. However, they’ve valiantly lost in most of those. And now they meet the Sharks.
I have kept each sides scoring in 2017 by ten-minute segments. Below we compare the Sharks attack and defence against the Cowboys attack and defence. To make this even more precise, we will just examine their scores against the other sides that finished the home-and-away season in the top eight.
Sharks attack/Cowboys defence
The Sharks best attacking period is in the last ten minutes of the first half, but they also need to take advantage of the Cowboys loose defence from the 51st to the 60th minute.
The Cowboys defence in the first half is pretty good and will challenge the Sharks.
Cowboys Attack/Sharks defence
The Cowboys really do need to get off to a flyer if they want to win this game. The Sharks shaky defence in the first twenty minutes may precipitate that. In fact, things look okay for the Cowboys scoring in the first half, but the second half holds no such promise.
If the Cowboys are to win they must post a winning score in the first forty.
Statistically predicted score: 19.4 – 21.0 Cowboys
Team Stats – average per game 2017
Cowboys Attack/Sharks defence
|Line breaks conceded||3.1 (#2 NRL)||4.4||+1.3 Cowboys|
|Trys conceded||2.8 (#15 NRL)||3.2||+0.4 Cowboys|
|Errors||11.4 (#1 NRL)||9.5||+1.9 Sharks|
|Meters conceded||1325.4 (#16 NRL)||1343.1||+18 Cowboys|
|Penalties conceded||7.2 (#2 NRL)||6||+1.2 Sharks|
|Drop outs conceded||0.9 (#16 NRL)||1.6||+0.7 Cowboys|
That line breaks conceded stat is a bit of a concern for the Cowboys. If there is one thing Jim Maloney likes it is breaking a line (and conceding penalties and annoying the NRL). He’ll be looking to carve through the Cows defence.
One thing that might stop the Sharks though is their massive error rate – they are the worst in the NRL. You’ve got to hold the ball if you want to win.
The Sharks give away lots of penalties but, as we know, that’s an advantage. The Melbourne Storm conceded the most in 2017 and it hasn’t hurt them. That the Sharks don’t concede many tries is probably linked to it – the Storm are the only side who concede fewer.
|Tackles made|| Jayden Brailey – 37
Paul Gallen – 33
Andrew Fifita – 32
Matt Prior – 28
Scott Bolton – 32
Jake Granville – 32
Gavin Cooper – 31
Ethan Lowe – 30
Jason Taumalolo – 28
|Missed tackles||James Maloney – 5.0
Wade Graham – 2.9
Luke Lewis – 2.5
Chad Townsend – 2.3
Ethan Lowe – 3.3
Jake Granville – 2.5
Michael Morgan – 2.4
Temaire Martin – 2.3
|Penalties conceded||James Maloney – 33 (#1 in NRL)
Luke Lewis – 20
Wade Graham – 19
Paul Gallen – 16
Andrew Fifita – 15
Jake Granville – 15
Kyle Feldt – 13
Coen Hess – 13
Michael Morgan – 12
|Errors||James Maloney – 25
Rickey Leutele – 24
Jack Bird – 24
Andrew Fifita – 24
Kyle Feldt – 31
Lachlan Coote – 23
Michael Morgan – 23
Yes, Maloney is a turnstile in defence and the worst serial penalty conceder in the history of the game (although he hasn’t been sin binned in the past five years despite conceding over 125 penalties!) but I still love him. Explain that.
Leutele and Bird need to cut down on the errors, as does Kyle Feldt. Ethan Lowe not only needs to get a haircut, he needs to improve his defence. He is worse than Wade Graham who can be guilty of throwing an arm out now and then.
It was good to see Jayden Brailey back and doing well following the broken jaw, he makes a big difference to the Sharks.
Team Stats – average per game 2017
|Line breaks||4||3.5||+0.5 Sharks|
|Tackle breaks||26.4||29.5||+2.9 Cowboys|
|Meters made||1468||1439||+29 Sharks|
|Penalties received||6.5||7.8 (#1 NRL)||+1.3 Cowboys|
|Drop outs forced||2.0 (#3 NRL)||2.1 (#1 NRL)||=|
The Cowboys are the side that gets more penalties than any other in 2017, averaging 7.8 a game. However, unless there are sin bins to go with them, they can be irrelevant.
Both of these sides are the best at forcing drop outs. There is not much between these sides in attack at all.
|Tackle breaks||Valentine Holmes – 3.6
Jack Bird – 3.3
Andrew Fifita – 2.9
Sosaia Feki – 2.2
Jason Taumalolo – 4.7
Michael Morgan – 3.4
Kyle Feldt – 2.9
Coen Hess – 2.6
|Line breaks||Sosaia Feki – 16
Wade Graham – 9
Ricky Leutele – 8
Coen Hess – 11
Kyle Feldt – 10
Michael Morgan – 9
|Metres gained||Paul Gallen – 169
Valentine Holmes – 152
Andrew Fifita – 129
Jason Taumalolo – 190
Scott Bolton – 123
Kyle Feldt – 109
|Tries scored||Sosaia Feki – 13
Gerard Beale – 7
Ricky Leutele – 7
Kyle Feldt – 12
Coen Hess – 12
Michael Morgan – 10
|Try assists||James Maloney – 11
Chad Townsend – 7
Ricky Leutele – 6
Michael Morgan – 14
Lachlan Coote – 8
Jake Granville – 8
|Line break assists||James Maloney – 8
Jack Bird – 8
Lachlan Coote – 11
Michael Morgan – 7
|Offloads||Andrew Fifita – 52
Paul Gallen – 49
Wade Graham – 22
Jason Taumalolo – 27
Michael Morgan – 15
John Asiata – 14
Jason Taumololo is a wrecking ball – 4.7 tackle busts a game, 190 metres and 27 offloads for the year. If he is on he can go a long way to winning this game by himself, while the same can be said for Andrew Fifita. While he can go in and out of matches, when he is on, he is devastating.
I’m looking forward to watching both.
Bizarre to see Sosaia Feki as the leading line breaker in this match, he’s got the tries to match.
If the Cowboys should be worried about anything, in particular, it is the second phase play made possible by the massive offloading of Fifita and Gallen. I’m not sure how the Cowboys will stop them.
Overall: This will be the 44th game between these sides. It stands at 27-16 in the Sharks favour, although bear in mind the Sharks won 13 of the first 14 games between the sides. So, since 2004 the Cowboys have actually won slightly more of these matches.
The last ten: The Sharks have won six of the last ten, including the last four straight. The Cowboys last win over the Sharks was in Round 1 2016.
At this Venue: This will be the third time that the sides will play at Allianz. Both previous times the Sharks have won – the qualifying final in 2013 and last year’s preliminary final.
Finals: These two sides have faced off in three finals. The Sharks won both the qualifying final in 2013 and last year’s preliminary final where the Sharks won both, but the 2015 semi-final in Townsville was won by the Cowboys 39-0.
Form: The Sharks have only won two of their last five. They lost to the Raiders, Broncos and Roosters, however, they beat the Knights and the Cowboys up in Townsville in Round 24.
In that time they’ve scored 88 points and conceded 112.
The Cowboys have won just one of the last six games coming into this match – the one win was their Round 25 victory over the Wests Tigers. Over the last five games they’ve conceded 110 points and scored 72.
The Sharks overall record
This will be the Shark’s 1,222nd game since entering the competition in 1967. They have a win ratio of 48.2 per cent. This will be the Sharks 44th finals game. They have won 18 with a win ratio of 41.8 per cent.
The Sharks have played in five of the last ten finals series, including the last two. They’ve only gone above the semi-finals when they have finished in the top four.
The Cowboys overall record
This will be the Cowboys 569th game since entering the competition in 1995, they’ve won 242 with a win ratio of 42.6 per cent. This will be the Cowboys 25th finals match, they have won 12 with a win ratio of 50 per cent.
The Cowboys have played in seven of the last ten finals series, including the last six. They have also only got past the semis when they have finished in the top four.
This combination has had no matches together this season.
Both have been lead referees the whole season, not pocket referees.
The fact Archer has paired these two up, given guernseys to pocket refs Adam Gee and Alan Shortall and given pocket ref Chris Sutton a lead role while leaving out regular leads Grant Atkins and Henry Perenara tells you that both the latter are suddenly out of favour.
Finals: Ash Klein has never handled a finals match between these two sides, whereas Gavin Badger has – 2015’s 39-0 semi-final flogging of the Sharks in Townsville.
Referees individual records
Badger has handled four games between these sides overall, the games have been split two apiece.
Klein has similarly controlled four games between the sides, however, the Cowboys have won three of them. That one win was the Sharks’ 18-14 comeback win in Round 11 this year.
He’s had a scratchy season by his standards. However, we know this bloke is sensational in attack and can win games through his excellent attacking play. I reckon he’s about to cut lose.
He should be ready to explode back into top form. If the Sharks are to be any chance in 2017 he’s got to hit the ‘go’ button now.
Another player who needs to step it up. The problem for the Cowboys is that he has another two gears at least.
This bloke is the real deal. While he was certainly disappointed Thurston got injured, he has stepped into the chief play making role with relish and shown himself to be a great long term option for the club.
He is a key reason the Cowboys have remained competitive – he is the key reason they can win this game.
Who doesn’t love watching this guy? Apart from the idiots trying to stop him of course. How can such a big unit also be poetry in motion? If the Cowboys are to win this game, Taumololo must dominate.
The bloke they call ‘Drago’ drips with potential. The Sharks love a physical match, but if Hess steps up, along with Taumololo, the ageing Sharks may find it too much to deal with.
The Sharks are going to win because they are playing in Sydney and in better shape overall than the Cowboys.
The Cows have been valiant since Thurston went down, but they have still lost more than they’ve won. They only just scraped into the finals and I think they’ll leave in the first week.
Prediction: Sharks 1-12