Don’t write the Cronulla Sharks off. The defending NRL champions travelled to the Sydney Roosters, who had beaten current league leaders Melbourne Storm the previous weekend, and produced their best performance of the season, running in seven tries on their way to a convincing 44-12 victory. If they can emulate that kind of effort in the playoffs, Cronulla will take some beating.

The Sharks were rampant in attack and reliable on defence and Cronulla showed the kind of credentials that they will need in order to defend their NRL title. Winning on the road in the National Rugby League is always tough but thrashing a rival is even harder and that result will have sent shockwaves across the division; Melbourne aren’t going to have everything their own way.

In terms of the bigger picture, Cronulla’s defensive unit should give Shane Flanagan’s side the edge in the postseason. The Sharks have conceded fewer points (241) than all of their NRL rivals after 16 games and that could be the difference between themselves and the well-fancied Storm at the end of the campaign. There’s an old adage in sport; defence wins titles and that could prove true again this year if Cronulla maintain their current form.

By the same token, the Sharks have received a major boost on offense in recent weeks. So far this season, Cronulla have averaged 20.375 points per game – Flanagan’s men have topped that total twice in the last three fixtures; perhaps suggesting that the Sharks are beginning to find their feet offensively. Bizarrely, Cronulla have the ninth-best attacking record in the division; even the 14th-placed Gold Coast Titans have scored more points.

Instead, Cronulla pride themselves on a solid, consistent defensive effort and it works. You can’t take anything away from this Sharks side; they have held Melbourne Storm, arguably the best attacking rugby league side on the planet, to less than 20 points in each of their last three contests. Flanagan will be quietly confident that his side can go all the way back to the NRL Grand Final and from there, it is anyone’s game.

 

 

Providing that Cronulla don’t slip up in any “easier” fixtures, such as the defeat to Manly Sea Eagles in June, the Sharks should feature prominently come the postseason. At the time of writing, Oddschecker show that Cronulla are valued at around 6/1 with various bookmakers and it would take a brave man to back against Flanagan’s side. The Sharks have had a taste of success last season and they are hungry for more.

With a favourable run of fixtures fast approaching, the Sharks could even find themselves climbing above Melbourne at the top of the NRL table. The Storm are in supreme form at the moment, having won 13 of their 16 league games this season. To put Melbourne’s form into perspective, nobody else has won more than 11. Although they are now four points clear of Cronulla at the top of the table, the regular season title is still very much up for grabs.

One thing that could hinder Cronulla’s chances is their form at home. On the road, the Sharks have been absolutely sensational; winning seven from seven. On home soil, they’ve struggled to inspire confidence – losing five of their nine fixtures so far this season. Flanagan will be wary of a potential loss of momentum if they fail to improve at home, especially with a run of matches at Southern Cross Group Stadium yet to come.

Statistically, Cronulla are one of the most consistent sides in Australian rugby. The Sharks will fancy their chances of more silverware at the end of the campaign and it would take a brave man to back against Flanagan’s side if they find their mojo at home. In terms of tackling and making line breaks, Cronulla might just be the best in the business and if they can continue to dominate territory, they will always be in contention.

Some have labelled the NRL title race as Melbourne’s to lose but that is doing this Cronulla Sharks side a complete injustice. On paper, the Storm have the entertainment factor and the big names but this Cronulla outfit are well drilled, organised and fearless. Another titanic clash between the Storm and Sharks may await in the Grand Final and Cronulla’s defence may just come out on top with a bit of luck.

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