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Shark pack faces up to Taumalolo

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 12/06/2016 Steve Zemek

Cronulla's all-star pack must stop North Queensland tearaway Jason Taumalolo if they are to prove their premiership credentials in Monday night's NRL blockbuster at Shark Park.

Taumalolo is shaping as the key to the match-up with statistics showing New Zealand's Test wrecking ball has established himself as arguably the best forward in the competition in 2016.

This season Taumalolo leads the NRL for running metres with 2158m, averaging 166m per game, according to Fox Sports Stats.

Not only is the 113kg Auckland-born monster eating up the yardage for fun, his post-contact metres are among the best in the game, averaging 11 metres per carry, ensuring star halves Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan have plenty of room to play with.

When the two sides met in round one, Taumalolo was arguably the difference, making 200m from 17 carries as his side scraped home 20-14 in Townsville.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan might be kicking himself this week after the club missed out on signing Taumalolo last year.

NSW representatives Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita, along with Blues aspirant Wade Graham, will be tasked with getting up in the face of Taumalolo, who shapes as the key to a season-defining clash.

After nine straight wins, Cronulla went into round 14 as ladder leaders - the first time they have been in first spot this late in the season since winning the minor premiership in 1999.

Since 1998, of the 17 teams to win nine in a row in a season, seven have gone on to make the grand final and four have lifted the Provan-Summons Trophy, a fact with augurs well for their title drought coming to an end.

"For me, the Cowboys are the benchmark. Them, the Storm, the Broncos, they're all quality teams and a test to see how you're going," Flanagan said.

"There's a long way to go, we're excited and happy to be where we're at the moment but we're under no illusions. There's a lot of football to be played and a lot of hard work still to be done."

While there's a groundswell of hope sweeping the Shire that their 50th season could mark their premiership breakthrough, the Cowboys will provide the ultimate litmus test.

Coach Paul Green will be able to run out the same 17 that defeated Brisbane 17-16 in last year's grand final, but the Sharks have their tails in the air after their last-gasp win over Canterbury last Monday.

Flanagan said he had sensed an urgency in his side going into the clash with the premiers and had seen a lift in their tempo during Sunday's captain's run.

"I saw a change in them today," Flanagan said.

"But they're a pretty cool group, they know what they have to do. The whole group is excited about the challenges tomorrow presents."


* The Sharks' 321 points scored through 12 games are the most in club history, eclipsing 310 in 2006.

* Cronulla have been perfect at home this season, winning six from six in their longest streak from the start of a season since winning eight straight in 1999.

* James Maloney is one point away from 1400 career points. He is the fourth highest scoring active player (behind Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Jamie Lyon) and poised to become just the 19th player all time to reach 1400 points.

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