Sharks v Knights
Emotion is unpredictable. Just ask Cronulla fans. Behind the Sharks’ miraculous comebacks over the past two weeks have been certain motivations that have inspired the squad to bounce back and secure two of the more memorable victories seen this season.
In Round 16, and down 22-0 against Brisbane, the Sharks fought back to secure a 24-22 win. Their motivation? The fact that they hadn't scored a single point in three consecutive matches beforehand.
As for last weekend, with the Sharks down 24-0 against the Roosters after 30 minutes of play, they pulled off a miracle 30-28 win. Considering one of their better players had been sacked and their coach had resigned in the week leading up to the game, their motivation was blatantly obvious.
Though what often follows emotional wins are drained, flat performances. Cronulla’s opponents this weekend, the Newcastle Knights, are a testament to this.
If you look back at Newcastle's first win of the season in Round 4 where they (ironically) beat the Sharks 30-0, the Knights had an abundance of emotion spurring them on with it being just six days since Alex McKinnon’s injury. What followed in the Knights’ next game was a low performance from a spent outfit that resulted in a 28-2 loss to North Queensland.
Ultimately it will be interesting to see how emotion plays its part in this one considering both clubs are currently on two-game winning streaks.
In team changes, Luke Lewis and Paul Gallen have been named to return after Origin III with Anthony Tupou and Tinirau Arona named on the bench for the Sharks. Siosaia Vave and Sam Tagataese do the old switcheroo between the bench and the starting team while Tim Robinson and Tupou Sopoaga are named on an extended bench.
In his 700th NRL game as a coach Wayne Bennett has demoted Travis Waddell all together for a returning Adam Clydsdale while Adam Cuthbertson returns from a knee injury on an extended bench that also features Joseph Tapine and David Fa'alogo.
Watch Out Sharks: While the same could be said for Cronulla, the Knights have crept back into some kind of form with wins over North Queensland and Parramatta. Credit to their defence, the Knights of old emerged against the Eels having held Jarryd Hayne and co. to just 10 points a fortnight ago. Newcastle's middle men will be primed to string such efforts together again.
Jarrod Mullen looks ready to explode back into form. With Mullen's preferred halves partner Kurt Gidley by his side for the past two fixtures, the five-eighth is starting to impress. While Mullen was hampered by a pre-season hamstring injury that kept him out for the first five weeks of the competition, he has bounced back with two line breaks, three try assists, three try saves, three line break assists and 21 tackle breaks. His kicking game is exceptional as well considering his 5254 kick metres this year (second in the NRL) and his season-high 668 metres (equal second highest produced in a game this season) against the Eels.
Watch Out Knights: With the Origin series coming to a close this week Sharks captain Paul Gallen should be good to go for the remainder of the season in what will be a massive positive for the club. While he has been restricted to just seven games this season it hasn't stopped him from impressing and the Knights will have to keep one eye on 'Gal' at all times considering he was missing the last time they played in Round 4. With an average of 32.4 tackles and 155.7 metres to his name this season, Gallen has also contributed three try assists, six line break assists and 31 tackle breaks.
The Knights head to Remondis Stadium this weekend under circumstances that haven't suited most clubs this season. With Newcastle coming off the bye and going up against a team that played the weekend before, they are seemingly up against it if past history is anything to go by. In 2014 only the Tigers (twice) and the Bulldogs have managed to secure wins in this situation.
Plays To Watch: Since moving to the left flank in Round 13, Knights winger Akuila Uate has crossed for five tries in four games and it's a credit to Newcastle's solid backline movements. It was utilised once more against Parramatta when Gidley gave Darius Boyd enough space out the back to draw in the defenders for Joseph Leilua to set up Uate. With the flying Fijian approaching 100 NRL tries (95) expect a few more balls out his way.
When you're sitting as low on the table as the Sharks are, they will have zero plans to change anything that is working. Case in point, Cronulla scored a try on either side of the field from kicks against the Roosters on Saturday. Jacob Gagan scored just after halftime thanks to a pinpoint cross-field kick from new five-eighth Fa'amanu Brown while Sosaia Feki jumped above the pack to capture a Jeff Robson bomb to cross the white stripe eight minutes later.
Where It Will Be Won: The important thing for both clubs this weekend is to harness their momentum and look to build on their respective two-game winning streaks. With Origin players returning in Gallen, James McManus, Beau Scott, Luke Lewis and Darius Boyd from Wednesday's game, fatigue will certainly play its part. It's up to the other senior players, like Anthony Tupou, Wade Graham and Gidley, to lift for their respective teams to make it a trifecta of wins.
The History: Played 44; Cronulla 16, Newcastle 27, draw 1. Cronulla have struggled against the Knights throughout their time playing one another. Since 2010 the Sharks have only won twice in nine games, including four games in the Shire. The Knights have won their past two meetings against this week's opponents and won their first game of this season in Round 4 against the Sharks with a 30-0 drubbing.
What Are The Odds: Punters are favouring the home side at Sportsbet.com.au, with four times the investment on Cronulla meaning the Sharks ($2.20) are in from $2.35. The Knights ($1.67) are still favourites, but have drifted from $1.57. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Adam Gee; Sideline Officials – Jason Walsh & Jeff Younis; Video Referees –Matt Cecchin & Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed, 4pm.
The Way We See It: There isn't any emotional driving force behind the Sharks this weekend. While they had reasons to spur them over the past fortnight, this weekend they could perhaps fall flat. The Sharks have been average across the board this season before this little run of wins. In their favour though is that the Knights haven't been much better, but considering their vast improvement in defence against the Eels and their favourable history against Cronulla they should prevail, just. Knights by four points.