Sharks v Knights preview
Cronulla Sharks v Newcastle Knights
An intriguing encounter looms this Friday night between two teams at opposite ends of the table who may have reached early season turning points.
While the Sharks come into this one occupying the bottom rungs of the ladder they looked nothing like their former selves in grinding out the red-hot Roosters on Easter Saturday.
Led by a masterful performance by boom rookie Jack Bird, the Sharks looked like a top-two team, completing their sets at an astonishing rate and defending staunchly to claim their first points of 2015.
Meanwhile the Knights went into their Round 5 fixture with the Dragons unbeaten until the torrential rain and a resurgent Dragons outfit spoiled their party.
When you're at the top the only way is down and after failing to score points at home for just the second time in the past 25 years, they'll be looking to make amends on Friday night at Remondis.
In team news Ben Barba returns on the bench for the Sharks after a two-week suspension with Bird emphatically holding down his five-eighth spot.
Tinirau Arona drops out of the bench to make way for Barba while Jayson Bukuya returns to an extended bench having been dropped last week for failing to comply with conditioning standards.
Meanwhile enforcer Beau Scott is out for a fortnight for the Knights which will have the Sharks playmakers breathing a sigh of relief.
Chris Houston takes his spot on in the back row while David Fa'alogo earns a spot on the bench. Korbin Sims returns from suspension in the front row.
Watch out Sharks: Dane Gagai and Joseph Leilua are a centre pairing in explosive form. In Gagai the Knights have an attacking option with speed to burn, in Leilua they have a powerful presence who can run over any defensive line. The Sharks' centre pairing of Gerard Beale and Ricky Leutele will have their hands full containing them.
Watch out Knights: The Sharks have well and truly turned a corner with their upset last start victory over the Roosters. They have a tough forward pack with too much pride to be sitting at the bottom, and with a bit of belief and confidence they could absolutely blast away the Knights on Friday night, particularly with Beau Scott's omission. The likes of Gallen, Heighington, Ennis and Lewis will provide a constant nuisance to the Knights pack. It might be too much for the Novocastrians to handle.
Key Match-Up: Jack Bird v Jarrod Mullen: Mullen will have a point to prove here against a playmaking youngster with all the attention on him. The Sharks five-eighth was simply outstanding in Cronulla's victory over the Roosters and will be completely unfazed by the reputation of his opposite number. He is a fearless ball-runner and smart operator at five-eighth. While Mullen has failed to kick on from his early career expectations, this year may well be the season he does so. Whoever gets the better of this match-up will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this one.
What Are The Odds: Sharks $1.80 v Knights $2.00: The Sharks opened as outsiders in this contest, but last weekend's results have seen them become firm favourites against the Knights with Sportsbet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
The History: Played 44; Knights 27, Sharks 16, 1 Draw. The Knights have the wood on the Sharks historically and had the better of the match-up in these teams' last encounter at Shark Park last year. The Knights came up with a huge comeback in that game, fighting back from an 18-point deficit to take the match 31-18 thanks to big performances from Jarrod Mullen and Kurt Gidley.
Match Officials: Referees: Ashley Klein and Alan Shortall. Touch judges: Brett Suttor and Peter Gough. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea
Televised: Delayed Channel 9, 9.30pm
They Way We See It: The Cronulla Sharks are a far better team than the side who slid to a winless four-game start to the season. Their victory over the Roosters last week will give them enough self confidence to kick on with another win against a team that might have reached their early season peak. The Knights will miss Beau Scott in the forwards meaning Paul Gallen will dominate in the middle. Sharks by 14.