Sharks v Eels
With a round of upsets occurring in Round 20, it is quite surprising to see this fixture being contested by two last-start winners.
It is has been a rare occurrence in 2014 that the Eels and the Sharks have both won in the same round but they did just that last weekend when they accounted for the Titans 24-18 and the Panthers 18-16 respectively on Saturday. The only other time these two have won on the same weekend in 2014 was way back in Round 5.
Nevertheless, each team will run out onto Remondis Stadium on Saturday afternoon with goals in mind for each of their particular circumstances.
The Eels are still in the mix for finals football with 12 other teams while the Sharks are concentrating their efforts on avoiding the wooden spoon. With different motivations leading into the final six weeks of the competition this game could lead to a cracker with both sides spurred on for different reasons.
In team changes, Paul Gallen will not make his return from injury this weekend. Matt Prior has been suspended and Anthony Tupou will return on the bench as his replacement for Cronulla. Tupou Sopoaga also makes up the extended bench at 18th man.
As they celebrate Fuifui Moimoi's 200th appearance in the NRL on Saturday afternoon, Kenny Edwards will be missing for the Eels with Peni Terepo named in his place.
Watch Out Sharks: The Eels were definitely a superior outfit with the inclusion of Tim Mannah, Will Hopoate and Ken Sio on Saturday night. A well-balanced team in the NRL is key and with these three men bringing a combined 227 first grade games, six City Origin berths and six sky blue NSW jumpers to the fray, the Eels were always going to benefit from their presence. With a game under their belts, Parramatta will be even better served this weekend.
While these three men made their return to the NRL for the first time in a number of weeks it didn't stop one man from dominating proceedings. Jarryd Hayne scored two scintillating tries within the space of two minutes against the Titans in what has been the story of the majority of his season. Hayne has averaged 172.1 metres per game to accompany his 15 tries (equal first in the NRL), 17 line breaks (first), 11 try assists, 10 try saves (equal second), 11 line break assists and 90 tackle busts (equal second). The Sharks will have one eye on Hayne at all times on Saturday with the Dally M Medal perhaps beckoning.
Watch Out Eels: Andrew Fifita had one of his better games of his season against the Panthers in Round 20 considering his wretched run with injury in 2014. His 235 metres, seven offloads and seven tackle breaks were instrumental in the Sharks’ 18-16 win and the bullocking prop’s 144 metres and 31.9 tackles per game have been impressive. Expect similar performances in the coming weeks as the 25-year-old looks to impress Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens ahead of the end of season Four Nations tournament.
Cronulla currently sit last on the ladder. Tied with the Raiders on 14 points, their massive -186 points differential is hurting their chances of avoiding the wooden spoon, an unwanted title not seen out in the shire since their third season in the then NSWRL competition in 1969. The Sharks are desperate to avoid the spoon and it should drive them on the paddock for the remaining six games of the season, with the bulk of their strongest 17 set to play until their year concludes in early September.
Plays To Watch: Both the Eels and the Sharks pulled off miraculous plays last weekend that ended up winning them the game. Despite this, what are important to highlight are the high-percentage plays that occur week-in, week-out.
For example, Jeff Robson’s right boot was up to its old tricks in Bathurst on Saturday when he kicked it out wide for Jacob Gagan to dive over the top of Kevin Naiqama to score his first try of the afternoon.
Parramatta benefited greatly from a backline play between Chris Sandow and Sio. While the try essentially came from Tepai Moeroa overrunning his decoy and Hayne and Hopoate stalling in their movements, Sandow had the eye to lob in past the three men to a very wide Ken Sio who sliced past Titans winger Kalifa Faifai Loa to level the scores midway through the first half.
Where It Will Be Won: While both may have won last weekend it came from moments of individual brilliance from Andrew Fifita and Jarryd Hayne. These teams can't rely on individual performances to win games week to week. A holistic team performance is essential when these two clash on Saturday afternoon. This was proven when these two teams played in Round 9 where the Eels ran eight tries past the Sharks. A similar group performance will be necessary for the eventual victor, despite the capabilities of several individuals in both teams.
The History: Played 84; Sharks 40, Eels, 44. While both clubs are coming off the win following last weekend's upsets, the Eels have held the wood over the Sharks for the past couple of seasons. Since 2011 the Eels have won four of their past six fixtures against Cronulla including a 42-24 win on Monday night football in Round 9 earlier this year.
What Are The Odds: All the Sportsbet money here is for the Eels ($1.80) – more than 90 per cent in fact! Three-quarters of the hold in the winning margin markets is on the Eels to win 13+. Jarryd Hayne has been very well backed for first try-scorer. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Adam Gee; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Anthony Eliott; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 3pm.
The Way We See It: The Eels are stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment. Sure, they are one of the six teams in the mid-table logjam with 22 points but their for-and-against is less than favourable. Cronulla know they have to continue to win to avoid the wooden spoon and with Fifita, Gordon and Graham in great form, an upset may be in order at home for the Sharkies. Cronulla by four points.