St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks
The local derby between the Dragons and the Sharks is shaping up nicely.
With the overall history of this particular match-up going straight down the middle, both teams enjoyed their first bye of the season in Round 11 after earning hard-fought victories the week prior.
As the Dragons engage in a four-way battle for first place, last year's wooden-spooners Cronulla are entrenched in the bottom half of the ladder tied with five other teams looking to make inroads into the top eight.
In team news, the Dragons remain unchanged from their win over the Raiders a fortnight ago. Their New South Wales representatives Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin appeared to make it through Wednesday's game with flying colours, with the latter only just avoiding suspension after being charged with a grade one dangerous throw.
The Sharks welcome back Tinirau Arona from a hamstring injury, he joins an extended bench in an otherwise unchanged Sharks team from their golden point win over the Titans in Round 10.
Watch out Dragons: Luke Lewis will be looking to respond in the best fashion possible after being overlooked for Origin duty. A notable omission from Laurie Daley's NSW team, Lewis is in career best club form at the Sharks and will only want to improve off the back of his representative dumping. Currently averaging 87.3 metres and 29.6 in the back row, Lewis has been putting forth plenty of clutch plays of late and his experience will prove invaluable on Sunday.
Watch out Sharks: All season long the Dragons have earned well-deserved plaudits for their defence but in the same light haven't been travelling very well in attack. That was until their last start against the Raiders. Scoring 32 points, halves Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop finally clicked into gear by maintaining the structural shape of the entire team throughout.
Key Match-Up: Battle of the Blues' bench – Trent Merrin v Andrew Fifita: After playing beside one another on Wednesday night, it won't take Merrin and Fifita long to reacquaint against one another this weekend. With the two playing similar minutes at different points of the game for New South Wales, each man should be relatively fresh and ready to explode at club level when offered the opportunity to play out the entire 80. While Fifita didn't live up to the explosive impact expected from him for NSW, at the Sharks he won't have such qualms. Merrin's consistency too is keeping Red V captain Ben Creagh on the bench.
The History: Played 34; Dragons 17, Sharks 16, Drawn 1. Since 2012, every Dragons loss to the Sharks has been followed by two Dragons wins. With the Red V winning their past two games against their upcoming opponents, history suggests the Sharks will win. You can't read much into the last time they played though either, back in Round 13, 2014, when the Dragons prevailed 30-nil, only six Sharks players from that game remain for this clash.
What are the Odds: The most one-sided betting games of the weekend, according to Sportsbet. There’s nearly four times the cash bet on the Dragons in the head to head market and 50 percent of the money in margin betting has been placed on St George Illawarra to win by 13-plus. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Nick Beashel & Russell Turner. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 4pm
The Way We See It: If the Dragons are going to keep their critics at bay and maintain they are premiership heavyweights, they need to win against teams in the bottom half of the ladder. While Cronulla will put up a fight in the middle of the paddock, the Dragons backs will prove too much to handle out wide. Dragons by 10.