Cronulla Sharks v Sydney Roosters
Sunday afternoon football pits the struggling Sharks up against the high-flying Roosters, but don't be fooled – this one will be hotly contested.
Firstly because last time these two sides met the Sharks came up with the upset of the season to get the better of the Chooks 20-12 at Allianz. Secondly, because Paul Gallen is finally back, named to return at lock after overcoming his glut tear.
Jayson Bukuya moves back to the bench for Cronulla to make way for the inspirational skipper, where he will be joined by another returning key forward, Chris Heighington. Sosaia Feki and Ricky Leutele have both been named on an extended bench after recovering from their respective knee and shoulder injuries but expect at least one of them to find a place in the starting team come Sunday.
Meanwhile the Roosters are so far unchanged following their dominant Monday night victory over the Storm. Their big forwards ripped the Melbourne pack to shreds and some of them now will be well entitled to a week off, especially Origin reps Boyd Cordner and Aidan Guerra.
In a worrying sign for the Sharkies ahead of this match, their attacking and defensive stats so far this season leave a lot to be desired compared to the Roosters. The Sharks, sitting in 14th place on the ladder, rank 15th in attack with 185 points scored and 11th in defence with 232 points conceded. Meanwhile the Roosters are sitting pretty in fifth position on the ladder. They're tied third in attack with 250 points and rank second in defence with 145 points conceded.
Watch Out Sharks: The brilliant left-side Roosters attack is coming for Cronulla's right-side defence. So far this year Gerard Beale and Valentine Holmes have conceded 25 missed tackles on their edge as well as 20 tries. They'll have the awesome trio of Boyd Cordner, Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou (18 tries between them) coming at them all day. The Sharks will have to really muscle up in defence to limit the Roosters' left-side attack. Then all the Sharks will have to do is stop Monday night's heroes Mitch Aubusson (if Blake Ferguson doesn't return) and Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
Watch Out Roosters: Paul Gallen is back and his presence will lift the whole team. There is no player in the NRL who leads from the front like Gallen and few who have a bigger influence on their team's success. The Roosters managed to steamroll the Storm big men on Monday night, but with big Gal partnered with the returning Heighington on Sunday, their passage down the middle will be full of big hits and bruises. If the Sharks can win the arm wrestle, their best bet is to give the ball to potent trio Luke Lewis, Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes. Those three have combined for 56 per cent of all Sharks' tries this year (17 of 30).
Key Match-Up: Ben Barba v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The form of these two players couldn't be much more different at this stage of the season, but what better way for Barba to find his old touch than against the NRL's in-form fullback. Tuivasa-Sheck ripped the Storm apart last week with his dazzling footwork and is averaging a ridiculous 240 metres per game. He also has four tries, eight line breaks and 50 tackle breaks. Meanwhile, in two fewer games, Barba's stats pale in comparison. He has one try, 63 metres per game, one linebreak and 19 tackle breaks. If the Sharks are to get up in this one Barba will have to find his attacking potency and outplay the dynamic RTS.
The History: Played 88; Sharks 30, Roosters 56, Drawn 2. Last time these two met, the Sharks pulled of the upset of the season. A late Jack Bird try (and man-of-the-match performance) sealed the Sharks' 20-12 victory in Round 5.
What Are The Odds: 75 per cent of all bets on this one have gone on the Roosters to beat the Sharks and while 13+ is the most popular margin, there is a small push for the Sharks at the line, where they're receiving the start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Televised: Live Channel 9, 4pm
Match Officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: Rick Macfarlane, Anthony Eliott. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Daniel Irvine.
The Way We See It: The Sharks could well be the Roosters' bogey team, winning the last encounter out of nowhere to give them six wins, one draw and three losses in their last 10 games with the Chooks. That stat will be extremely difficult to improve on Sunday afternoon, even with the huge return of Gallen. The Roosters backline will be a class above, and they'll get the win by eight points.