Sharks v Raiders
Ladies and gentleman, feast your eyes on the biggest game of the weekend. Sure several clubs are trying to keep their season alive past the first week of September while others are trying to find a place in the top four... but who seriously cares about that? We have a decider on our hands with the biggest prize of all – pride – on the line!
The winner of this fixture will likely secure 15th place on the competition ladder while the loser will have the wooden spoon weighing down their trophy cabinet over the off-season.
With Canberra coach Ricky Stuart complaining that his team will go nowhere without a couple more Origin and Test players and their hoodoo against the Dragons ruined, and with the Sharks down to their fourth-string front row rotation and third coach of the season after being flogged by the Storm, there will be a whole range of storylines coming out of this game.
Tinirau Arona has been added to Cronulla's injury ward for this weekend's game against Raiders. With that however Anthony Tupou returns from a hamstring injury with Tupou Sopoaga coming off the bench. Sione Masima is 18th man for Cronulla and will be the eighth NRL debutant for the Sharks this season if he plays.
For Canberra, Jack Wighton is the latest Raider to jump into fullback, replacing Jordan Rapana (fractured skull) in a move that paves the way for Jeremy Hawkins to make his NRL debut in the centres. Kyle O'Donnell is back for Brett White (hamstring) with Dane Tilse starting.
Watch Out Sharks: Canberra coach Ricky Stuart believes his team won't be going anywhere near the finals until they sign some Origin and/or Test players. Sorry to be a stickler Sticky but you have several stars in your team already. Josh Papalii for example was a part of Australia's World Cup winning team last season and is averaging 26.3 tackles and 88.5 metres per match. Anthony Milford and Wighton were in their respective states for Origin camps earlier this year while Paul Vaughan has been one of the biggest improvers this season after killing it for Italy at the World Cup. Playing predominantly off the bench this season, Vaughan has still produced 118 metres and 23.2 tackles on average per match. The Sharks should be wary of massive games from this quartet as they look to dispel Ricky's latest slip of the tongue.
Watch Out Raiders: It has been a matter of the veteran and the rookie doing their best for the Sharks in recent weeks. Paul Gallen finally made his return from a virus and bicep injury against Melbourne and continued the good form he produced from his nine appearances earlier this season. 'Gal' has averaged 160.2 metres and 32.3 tackles in his game time for Cronulla as well as punching out 34 tackle busts and six line break assists. Cronulla will also be thankful for the emergence of Valentine Holmes, with the youngster scoring his first ever NRL try last weekend. Holmes has averaged 120.7 metres in his three games for the Sharks and produced four line breaks and nine tackle busts. Canberra will have to be on their game if they are to stop both men.
Plays To Watch: While Cronulla were only able to score once last weekend against Melbourne it came off some clever work from Michael Lichaa and Chris Heighington. Looking out towards the open side, Lichaa dummied and passed it out to Heighington down the blind. With the back-rower getting plenty of attention from Storm duo Ben Roberts and Mahe Fonua, and with Marika Koroibete shooting in to take out the centre, Heighington was able to throw it over the top to Holmes to cross for his maiden try in the NRL.
Glen Buttriss has been going about his job week-to-week without a hitch in a positive for the Raiders. His work from dummy-half last week was solid for Canberra despite losing to St George Illawarra and it showed when he set up Papalii from the ruck. With Milford coming through towards the open side, Buttriss shot down the short-side and dummied to Joel Edwards before giving it off to Papalii who then charged his way over the tryline.
Where It Will Be Won: What else can be said other than the team that play better wins? Or in the case of these two clubs, perhaps the side that plays less badly? Here we have two clubs that have lost 16 games each this season. There is no way to compare their five individual wins, which have come against a completely different set of clubs. It will simply come down to the team that play better on the day. With injuries ravaging both rosters it is a matter of playing to the best of their ability with the cattle they have available.
The History: Played 61; Sharks 33, Raiders 28. Recent history between the two clubs suggests that winning comes in blocks of two. Since 2010, Canberra and Cronulla have traded two wins for two losses alternatively. With Cronulla winning their past two matches against the Green Machine, including a 38-18 thrashing in Round 26 last season, perhaps history will dictate that the Raiders might sneak away with the chocolates.
What Are The Odds: It may be the battle of the wooden spoon but this game has been a popular one as far as betting is concerned according to Sportsbet. There’s three times the hold on the Raiders despite the match being played at Remondis Stadium. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Henry Perenara; Assistant Referee – Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Jon Stone; Video Referees – Matt Cecchin & Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 2pm.
The Way We See It: This game could be anything. It could be the best game of the year with two teams on an equal playing field or it could be a game that explains the reason why they occupy the bottom two rungs of the competition ladder. It wouldn't be surprising even if it ended up a nil-all draw. In all seriousness though, the home advantage should play a role in this one and while it will be close the Sharks may well sneak away with a one-point win in Golden Point to get themselves on off the bottom of the ladder.