Chad Townsend has emerged as one of the surprise packets of the NRL season, including to his Cronulla halves partner James Maloney.
Maloney and Townsend have formed one of the NRL’s most lethal scrumbase combination this season, in just their first year together, piloting the Sharks to 14 successive wins and the premiership lead.
Sydney Roosters premiership winner Maloney was one of the pre-season’s biggest moves after he left Bondi for the Shire. Townsend’s move from the Warriors didn’t receive nearly as much hype, but it has been almost as important.
“I always thought he had developed over there with the Warriors,” Maloney told AAP.
“But he has probably surprised me just how well he has been playing. He has just been so consistent and we are reaping the rewards of that.”
Townsend was again a key figure in the Sharks’ win over the Roosters on Monday.
But Maloney warned Cronulla needed to continue to improve in the run-in to the finals ahead of their round 20 clash with hapless Newcastle at Shark Park on Sunday.
“There are a few games we have got by but we haven’t been where we should be which is not a huge issue because we need to be playing our best footy down the track,” he said.
“But the amount of points we let in against the Roosters wasn’t good enough, there were some tries we should have stopped.”
Maloney, who led the Roosters to three straight minor premierships and the 2013 title, said he felt for his former teammates, who are languishing in second-last place on the NRL ladder, ahead of only the Knights.
“It is hard to watch but they are big boys they will be alright, it is a tough year but they will come out the other side and be better for it,” Maloney said.
Cronulla welcome back the suspended Andrew Fifita for their clash with Newcastle, who they beat 62-0 at Hunter Stadium earlier this year. Fa’amanu Brown falls out of the Sharks side.
Dane Gagai returns at fullback for the Knights from a quad injury.
Robbie Rochow and Sione Mata’utia are missing through injury for the visitors. Pauli Pauli and Mickey Paea come into their 17.
Daniel Saifiti is suspended for the Knights, his brother Jacob takes his place.
* The Sharks are scoring the most points this season (26.2 per game), while they are also conceding the third fewest (15.9 per game).
* Cronulla are looking to become just the eighth team in history to win 15 straight matches and the first since Melbourne won 15 straight in 2012-13.
* Only three teams in the history of the game have won 15 straight matches in the one season: Manly in 1995 won 15 straight, Canterbury in 2002 won 17 in a row and the Roosters won 19 straight in 1975 and were the only one of these teams to win the premiership.
Source: Fox Sports Stats.