On the cusp of equalling their best ever start to an NRL season, Cronulla have a chance to clear an important mental hurdle against fellow title contenders Canterbury on Monday.
After going into round 13 at the top of the ladder, the Sharks will go to 10-2 with victory at what’s expected to be a wet and woolly ANZ Stadium.
Should they get over the line against Des Hasler’s side, it will equal the start to the season made by the 1999 Sharks who – led by Andrew Ettingshausen, Mat Rogers and David Peachey – secured one of the club’s two minor premierships.
Desperate to end 50 years of heartache without a premiership, a win over the impressive yet inconsistent Bulldogs will go a long way towards the Sharks proving they are the real deal.
Hasler had nothing but praise for Shane Flanagan’s side, calling them the complete package.
“It’s going to be a tough game, they’re sitting on top of the table which is very well earned,” Hasler said of the Sharks.
“They’re combining well, they’ve got that mix of experience and their forwards are giving them a really good platform.
“On the back of that, their experience out wide and speed are cashing in. They’ve got great momentum.”
The Sharks are in the midst of an eight-game winning streak and looking to maintain first place, after Melbourne jumped them with a win over Penrith on Saturday.
While the Sharks have been the model of consistency, the Dogs have struggled to put together back-to-back wins at 7-5 but still are right in the hunt for the top four.
Both sides are expecting to have their full Origin compliment run out at ANZ Stadium with the Sharks’ Paul Gallen, James Maloney and Andrew Fifita to back up and Hasler to have the services of Josh Morris, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer.
STATS THAT MATTER
* The Bulldogs have held the upper hand over the Sharks for almost 15 years, winning 16 of the past 21 matches, including eight of their past 10.
* Cronulla’s only two losses this season have come on the road. However the Sharks have won their past three matches away from Shark Park.
* Cronulla has the best attack in the NRL, ranked first in points (27.4 per game) and tries scored (4.5 per game), second in offloads (13.1 per game), fourth in tackle busts (26.5 per game) and fourth in linebreaks (5.2 per game).
Source: Fox Sports Stats