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globalrugbyleague - Fri, 11 Jul 2008 12:01:00 GMT
The Phantom is surviving the coldest winter in a decade and the footy action is hotting up.

We're now through the representative season and over the next nine actions I expect the standard to lift.

Every league pundit says the Melbourne Storm are invincible.

They are certainly going to be hard to beat but they will NOT win the grand final.

I still believe Manly are the team which can go one better and send Steve Menzies, who is a champion man and footballer out a winner on grand final day this year.

Six games of night footy is one of the big reasons why crowds are down and we need for more daytime footy and generous family ticket packages to attract people back to the game.

Plus food and petrol prices going through the roof and Foxtel and free-to-air television making it more attractive to stay at home or go to clubs and watch games.

But for this week the Phantom is casting is eye over two games for tactical assessment that are well worth their weight in value in terms of seeing live.

Cronulla V Manly
Toyota Stadium, 7:30pm
Saturday July 12th
Referee: Jason Robinson
Head To Head: Played 73, Sea Eagles 49, Sharks 22, drawn 2
At This Venue: Played 28, Sharks 14, Sea Eagles 14

The first game on my agenda is the clash between the Sharks and Sea Eagles at Toyota Stadium on Saturday night at 7.30pm.

Both clubs are fierce rivals and the Sharks' win over Manly at Brookvale this year was a bashathon.

There is no love lost over the years between the seaside clubs.

It's thirty years since Manly defeated Cronulla 16-0 in the grand final replay at the SCG.

It's 35 years since Manly downed Cronulla 10-7 thanks to the immortal and Manly's greatest ever player, Bob Fulton, at the SCG.

Fulton scored two super tries in that grand final to deny the Sharks' their first premiership.

The Sharks are still searching for that elusive title and I believe it will come next year when coach Ricky Stuart gets Trent Barrett and Anthony Tupou over to the club.

It will be Cronulla's relentless, aggressive style and varied kicking game versus Manly's methodical and machine-like precision in this game.

Both teams are relentless, make few mistakes while their attack has improved in recent weeks.

The Sharks' attack in the past month has been far more fluent.

The Kimmorley-Seymour and De Gois operation around the play-the-ball is the reason for this.

Coach Stuart has the trio playing in sync.

Manly too are playing differently this year.
They have more variation from halfback Matt Orford and are running multiple decoy plays and playing deeper in attack inside the opposition quarter-line while varying their attack down the centre, on the edges and out wide.

The Orford-Brett Stewart- Steve Menzies point of attack is very fluent.

Verdict:

Sharks at home by 1 in a thriller.

Wests Tigers V Melbourne
Campbelltown Stadium, 7:00pm
Monday July 14th
Referee: Jared Maxwell
Head To Head: Played 15, Storm 10, Tigers 5
At This Venue: Played 1, Storm 1, Tigers 0

This is the Tigers' big chance to get their finals' run happening once again.

Injuries, inconsistent form and losses to teams they should beat in the talent stakes have hampered the Tigers effort this year.

Melbourne are ruthless, highly efficient and rely on Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith and Michael Crocker, as their big five.

The Storm's off-load rate of the forwards this year has been poor.

Coach Craig Bellamy got them to shift and actually pass the ball a lot more against Canberra last week at Olympic Park.

In fact, statistically, the Storm have the worst off-load rate in the NRL this season.

The Tigers like playing what I call ''total football'' where all players are schooled in the art of equal efficiency of attack and defence.

They play with skill and can excite the crowds with their up-tempo, fast-play-the-ball approach in attack.

Robbie Farah, Benji Marshall, Brett Hodgson are the fulcrum of this attack, roving, shifting and rotating themselves around the play the ball to attack sides like a three-point triangle.

Sheens coached Bellamy at Canberra. Both coaches are astute and have won premierships.

Sheens has won four and been a runner-up in another. Bellamy has won a title in 2007 and coached the Storm when they played like a weak, tropical rain depression in the 2006 super bowl when defeated by Brisbane.

I like the Tigers after the bye to play side-side-footy and tire the Melbourne forwards out in a high scoring game in front of a big crowd for Brett Hodgson's last game at Campbelltown.

Verdict:

Tigers by 10.
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