Cronulla Sharks v South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Cronulla Sharks will be looking to continue their impressive recent form as they host the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Remondis Stadium in Monday night footy.
This will be the Rabbitohs' second straight game against resurgent opposition having fallen to a second-half onslaught from a red-hot Cowboys outfit last Monday night.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have pulled out two impressive performances in recent weeks to bounce off the bottom of the ladder. They got the better of the Knights in torrential conditions last Friday but were left licking their wounds in the aftermath.
Despite having his dangerous throw charge successfully downgraded at the judiciary on Wednesday, Andrew Fifita still misses two weeks of football for his dangerous throw on Adam Clydsdale.
He will be a big loss for the Sharks, considering he was starting to play to his awesome potential against the Knights, and has been replaced in this week's team by the hard-running Sam Tagataese.
Cronulla's front-row depth is further tested with Andrew's twin David also ruled out of this one after suffering a fractured fibula against the Knights.
Either Jayson Bukuya or Tinirau Arona will take David's place as they both make up an extended 18-man bench.
Otherwise coach Shane Flanagan has shown faith in his team, picking boom rookie Jack Bird again in the halves while sticking with the exciting Valentine Holmes at the back.
Meanwhile for the Bunnies, Glenn Stewart will once again play five-eighth with both John Sutton and Adam Reynolds still out.
After a powerful performance on Monday night Chris Grevsmuhl retains his spot in the second row, while Cameron McInnes fills out an extended bench.
Watch Out Sharks: Without the Fifita twins the Sharks will have their hands full trying to stop the Rabbitohs' barnstorming front-row rotation rolling through the middle. George Burgess will be a menace in the middle as usual; so far this year he has amassed 92 runs, 19 tackle breaks and 148 metres per game. It won't get much easier for Cronulla when his brother comes on either; Tom is sitting just behind with 130 metres a game. Sam Tagataese and makeshift prop Chris Heighington will have to muscle up in this one.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: The Sharks have a superbly balanced and underrated halves combination in Jeff Robson and Jack Bird. If the Bunnies forwards allow these guys time and space they could be made to pay. Robson has been calling the shots, leading the team around the park and smartly giving youngster Jack Bird plenty of freedom to weave his magic. In just two-and-a-half games this year Bird has racked up an astonishing 15 tackle breaks to go along with his three tries. He's also played the creator on a number of occasions in a breakout start to his career.
Key Match-Up: Valentine Holmes v Greg Inglis. Who can create the most attacking opportunities and who will finish them off better? Without a huge amount of attacking spark across both backlines the two fullbacks will be key figures in putting points on the board for their respective sides. Both players have relished their move to the fullback position with its greater space and freedom. Holmes is a recent mover to the back and has loved the appointment since shifting Michael Gordon out to the wing. Meanwhile we all know what Inglis can do and he'll have further motivation to take this game by storm after the masterful Johnathan Thurston overshadowed his last-round performance. Not the worst person to be outshone by but Inglis doesn't settle for second best – expect a big game from him.
The History: Played 82; Sharks 42, Rabbitohs 37, Drawn 3. The last time these two sides met was in May last year as Souths had their first shut-out victory in 15 years, winning 18-0 against a depleted Sharks outfit at Shark Park. In John Morris's 300th NRL game the Sharks were without names such as Gallen, Lewis, Fifita, Tupou and Carney. They never looked like troubling the Bunnies.
Match Officials: Referee – Ben Cummins; Assistant Referee – Matt Noyen; Touch Judges – Nick Beashel & Rick MacFarlane; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Ben Galea. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
What Are The Odds: Sharks $2.35 v Rabbitohs $1.55. The money had been running well and truly in the Rabbitohs' favour until Monday night's result. Since then it's been all the Sharks with Sportsbet receiving around two-thirds more money on Cronulla in head to head betting.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: Souths didn't know what hit them last week against the Cowboys. They'll have a hard week of training under their belt and they'll be coming into this one ready to work hard to grind out a victory. It won't come easy though and the Sharks deserve major credit for their recent turnaround in form against quality opponents. We'd be super confident in them if the in-form Fifitas were lining up but even without them they should be good enough at home. Sharks by 2.