Key Match-Up: Round 15 vs. Sharks
Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks and Cronulla Sharks halfback Chad Townsend will both take on added extra responsibility this Saturday night when their respective sides go head-to-head once again at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
It was only six weeks ago that these two sides met at Leichhardt Oval, with both Townsend and Brooks playing arguably their strongest games of the season — Brooks taking on the line on and dragging his team back in to the contest after an early deficit, before Townsend’s late chip-and-chase try ensured a 22-16 win for the 2016 premiers.
With a slew of the Sharks’ key attacking weapons in Valentine Holmes, Jack Bird, James Maloney, Wade Graham and even Andrew Fifita missing with State of Origin duties, Cronulla will no doubt look to Townsend even more so this weekend, with his kicking game of particular importance on a cold, dewy night. The 26-year-old was able to get the job done when the Sharks played without their Origin stars earlier in the year, kicking a field goal in the dying moments to give his side a guts 9-8 win over the Bulldogs.
For Brooks, the focus will be two-fold — first, he’ll carry the added pressure of Wests Tigers being without both James Tedesco and Aaron Woods, but he’ll also take the field for the first time since Mitchell Moses’ departure and Tui Lolohea’s arrival to the Club.
Brooks hasn’t played for Wests Tigers since twinging his hamstring in the lead-up to the side’s clash against the Brisbane Broncos in Round 11, with his long kicking game crucial to Ivan Cleary’s sides chances at taking down the Sharks. Interestingly, in his five career games against the men from the Shire, Brooks has never scored a try, but has chalked up an impressive seven try-assists, and will be keen to carry that on this round.
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ALL THE NUMBERS
Brooks and Townsend have come up against each other on four occasions — twice when Townsend was with the Warriors and twice since moving to the Sharks — and on all four occasions, Townsend has emerged with the win. In his four games against Brooks, Townsend has scored two tries as well, with Wests Tigers one of just three NRL clubs Townsend has scored more than one try against in his career (Broncos, Cowboys).
NEW HALVES PARTNERSHIPS ON SHOW
With Moses moved on from Concord and Maloney away on State of Origin duties, both Brooks and Townsend will have new halves partnerships on show this Saturday night, with Lolohea and Fa’amanu Brown joining them the halves. Lolohea will become the fifth player Brooks has played in the halves so far in his career — previously joining Braith Anasta, Blake Austin, Chris Lawrence and Moses in the halves. And while the pairing will take some time to gel completely, Brooks’ record without his housemate is quite impressive — winning 10 of 16 games without Moses as opposed to 20 out of 57 with him. With Brooks’ controlling style allowing Lolohea to play his natural, heads-up style of football, there’s definitely something to get excited about in the combination. While we’re at it, though, it’s worth noting the success that Brown and Townsend have together in the halves — winning two from two last year and also winning earlier this season against the Bulldogs, giving the pair a perfect 3-0 record.
WHAT THEY SAID
"Luke's pretty excited to get back, he was frustrated watching. I think his kicking game is the biggest thing that he brings. And anything we get is over and above that is a bonus, but has a great ability to get us around and finish our sets well. That's his biggest strength. He's also mentioned himself that it's a good opportunity for him to lead the team this week and in to the future. This is the first week of that so I'm keen to see how he goes with that. Tui's more of an instinctive type of player and only two games in to his stint here, so I think having Luke back will really help him and help take some of that pressure offf him." — Wests Tigers Coach Ivan Cleary on Brooks and Lolohea