Sharks v Raiders
After ordinary starts to the season, impressive recent victories by Cronulla and Canberra have their fans once again dreaming of the extraordinary. Both clubs are on two-match winning streaks and, soaring up the NRL table, their supporters are daring to dream once again.
Cronulla started the year with two wins from three matches before a four-match losing streak sent them spiralling down the competition table. Back-to-back victories against the Knights and Tigers, though, have them sitting in ninth position and just a win away from climbing as high as fifth on the ladder!
The Raiders, meanwhile, won just one of their opening four matches but have since turned around their 2013 season. Since Round 5, the Green Machine have won four of five matches, disposing of the Roosters, Warriors, Storm and Knights in the process. In fact, during last week’s win against Newcastle, the Raiders turned a 14-point deficit into a 30-point victory! Canberra now sit in seventh position on the competition table, a far cry from Round 4 when they were at the foot of the ladder!
Cronulla have named an unchanged line-up to the team that smashed the Tigers 30-6 last Friday night. Coach Shane Flanagan has resisted the urge to rush Paul Gallen back into his team as the skipper continues his recovery from a knee injury suffered against Newcastle in Round 8. Chris Heighington will again wear the No.13 jersey, while impressive youngster Sosaia Feki, fresh from a two-try performance, has retained his place on the wing. After coming off with a neck injury during the clash with the Tigers, prop Ben Ross has responded well to treatment and has been named.
The Raiders have also named the same team from their last outing, a 44-14 win against Newcastle. The only changes come in the starting line-up, with David Shillington and Josh Papalii starting this week, after they came from the bench against the Knights following a return from injury. The changes to the starting team see Dane Tilse and Joe Picker move back to the bench. Once again Shaun Berrigan has been named 18th man. Glen Buttriss (finger), Joel Thompson (toe) and Jarrod Croker (knee) all remain in the rehabilitation group for at least another week.
Watch Out Sharks: They’re bad, mean and lean – introducing the Green Machine’s electric ensemble of outside backs. Comprising Reece Robinson, Sandor Earl, Jack Wighton, Blake Ferguson and Edrick Lee, the Raiders’ Nos.1-5 are elusive, electric, dynamic and efficient. They’ll slice opponents open with the precision of a surgeon – Cronulla’s more experienced but less threatening outside men need to take note. Experts said the Raiders would miss discarded fullback Josh Dugan, but recent performances prove otherwise – their outside men have scored 12 tries in the past two weeks!
Watch out Raiders: The Sharks concede a miserly 3.3 line-breaks per game (equal fourth in the competition – unsurprisingly the Roosters and Sea Eagles lead that statistic), so any expectations of a Raiders backline carve-up may well prove unfounded.
Canberra’s biggest worry, though, comes from Cronulla’s forwards – they’re one of the most destructive, metre-hungry packs in the competition. They might be missing their ‘Mr Muscle’ Gallen (165.9 metres per game) but with in-form prop Andrew Fifita (139.1 metres per game) alongside Ben Ross, Luke Lewis and fill-in skipper Wade Graham, they’re still very effective. The team lead the competition in metres gained (1432.7 per match) too.
Plays To Watch: The Raiders looking to send early ball to in-form right-side pairing Blake Ferguson and Sandor Earl who both scored doubles last week – they’ve carved through defences like a hot knife through butter recently; Sharks halves Todd Carney and Jeff Robson kicking for the wing of rookie Sosaia Feki – the debutant scored two tries last week and his confidence will be sky high entering this clash; Cronulla looking to ‘get square’ with Canberra enforcer Josh Papalii – in last year’s finals match Gallen accused him of making “dog shots” on more than one occasion.
Key Match-Up: The No.6s hold the key to the clash; Todd Carney v Terry Campese – the incumbent Blues five-eighth up against a one-time 2009 NSW representative, and a former Raider up against the club’s current captain. He who wins this battle will lead their team to two vital competition points.
Their form in recent weeks has been particularly impressive – Carney has scored a try, made a line-break, created another and set up three tries; Campese has created three crucial tries.
Where It Will Be Won: Completion rates: Cronulla have won every match in which they’ve completed 74 per cent or more of their sets of six; the Raiders have won every match where they’ve completed at a rate of 68 per cent or higher. Both teams, however, have a habit of making errors in matches – Canberra rank 14th for errors (11.3 per match) while Cronulla rank last (12.1 per match).
The History: Played 59 – Cronulla 31, Canberra 28. At Sharks Stadium, though, the boys from the Shire hold a decisive advantage – they’ve won 19 of the 27 meetings.
Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Chris Butler & Matt Noyen; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Luke Patten.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Sharks v Raiders clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2pm.
The Way We See It: Essentially this clash pits a tough-as-nails, dog-on-a-bone, determined and relentless forward pack against one of the slickest, most exciting and elusive backlines in the comp. It’s a toss of a coin here. We’re leaning towards the home side here, but only just. Cronulla by one point. (If you’re chasing a first or last try-scorer, consider much-maligned Sharks centre Ben Pomeroy – he’s scored 10 four-pointers in 12 matches against the Raiders.)
*Statistics: NRL Stats.