Sharks v Dragons
Saturday 7:30pm (AEST)
Cronulla fans just didn't know where to look on Monday night. Wishing they were 30km south in the confines of their own home, Sharks supporters were resigned to the fact that their side probably didn't even win the coin toss. Without key players Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Luke Lewis and Todd Carney at the helm, Cronulla had no answers to the Bulldogs who ran in seven tries on their way to a 42-4 defeat.
While Peter Sharp was left wondering what might've been with a full deck of players at his disposal, his side will be much better prepared this week. However, with only Todd Carney and Siosaia Vave returning to their side, Cronulla are practically staring down the barrel of a bazooka against the undefeated Dragons.
In what is shaping up as one of the more lopsided local derbies between the two in recent memory, the Dragons have started this season like a house on fire. Steve Price's men have defied critics' expectations with two solid victories over the Tigers and Warriors to kick-off 2014. The new faces have come into the side with aplomb while the old faces are playing to improve on the Red V's horrendous 2013 showing. The Dragons go into this game with an unchanged 17 and have added the returning Jack De Belin and Jack Stockwell to their extended bench for good measure.
In milestone news, Sharks prop Sam Tagataese will play his 100th first-grade game.
Watch Out Sharks: Many players have left the Melbourne Storm and have amounted to nothing. It's not uncommon for former Storm players to struggle without the big three of Smith, Cronk and Slater surrounding them. But if the opening two rounds are any indication though then new Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop is having no such problems. Widdop has been absolute star for the Dragons this season – his five try-assists are a testament to this.
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The Englishman is just one man the Sharks should look out for though. While Widdop may be steering the ship for the Dragons, it is the likes of other new faces Joel Thompson, Mike Cooper and Dylan Farrell complementing the red-hot Red V while Dragons youngsters Tyson Frizell and Adam Quinlan are taking their games to the next level – the Dragons across the park are certainly looking to shake up any willing opposition this season.
Watch Out Dragons: The Dragons would've watched last Monday night's game. They know that the Sharks got thrashed and this will be in all of their minds during their game on Saturday night. Complacency is a fickle thing but unfortunately it can affect even the best of teams on their day. The Dragons will have to be sure they are switched on this weekend because no game of rugby league is easy in this day and age and Cronulla will be looking to make amends.
The return of Todd Carney can only be a positive one for the Sharks heading into Saturday night's game. Carney, the former NSW and Australian representative, will be a welcome return for Peter Sharp. Carney has the ability to turn a game on its head and his direction and influence will only help his teammates better themselves. Michael Lichaa also gets another chance at first-grade and will be a lot better for his initial run in first-grade last weekend.
Plays To Watch: Brett Morris, runaway Dragon – while his 100+ metre runaway try would've helped, the NSW representative has already managed 302.9 metres so far in 2014 (151.5 per game); Tupou Sopoaga – Tupou managed 44 tackles for his side, head and shoulders above any of his other teammates; Trent Merrin – A+ for effectiveness – has averaged 164 metres and 38.5 tackles per game for the Red V this season; Michael Gordon – when the going gets tough, Michael gets going – assisted in his side's only try against the Bulldogs where he helped his side to 161 metres over the course of the game.
Where It Will Be Won: This game is a two-sided coin. On one side you have Cronulla who, with the men they have on board, need to drastically improve in defence and attack to have any chance of victory. On the other side, you have an undefeated and fluent Dragons side that just have to continue the way they've been playing in hope they can go three from three.
The History: Played 32; Sharks 16, Dragons 15, Drawn 1. It has been hard to divide these sides in recent memory, both sides winning a game against one another in each of the past three seasons. Cronulla had the last laugh in Round 23 last year with a 22-18 victory.
What Are The Odds: The Dragons have simply been 'backed off the map' to make it three-from-three with bets coming in 10 to 1 for the Red V. They've firmed from $1.80 into $1.70 with Sportsbet and their price will continue to tumble if money keeps flooding in. The line is a skinny -2.5 but that will balloon if the betting keeps up.
Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich and Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis and Chris Sutton; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton and Matt Rodwell.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7:00pm (AEDT)
The Way We See It: Pending an absolute stuff-up from the Dragons, the Red V with the way they have kicked off season 2014 should have no troubles away from home against an injury ravaged Cronulla side. Dragons to win by 13+.
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