Sharks v Dragons preview
Cronulla Sharks v St George Illawarra Dragons
The Cronulla Sharks will be looking for retribution on Sunday afternoon against a St George Illawarra Dragons outfit that demolished them 42-6 back in Round 12.
It was a local derby in which the Dragons proved that they were the real deal in the 2015 Telstra NRL Premiership, but unfortunately for them it was also the last time they won a match.
After a string of losses due to a growing injury toll in recent weeks, the once table-topping Dragons now sit fourth on the ladder, while the Sharks have had a resurgence to sit in 10th – but amazingly are only two competition points behind this week's opponents.
Both Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis have been named and are expected to play after getting through the Origin decider unscathed. Their return will push Pat Politoni out and see Chris Heighington demoted to 18th man.
Meanwhile the Dragons also welcome back an Origin star as Josh Dugan returns to the fullback role in place of Justin Hunt, who will shift to the wing. Jason Nightingale returns on the other wing in place of Charly Runciman, with Heath L'Estrange replacing Craig Garvey while Will Matthews and Joel Thompson both return from suspension.
Trent Merrin was named by the Dragons but is unlikely to take his place after being cited for a Grade 2 Dangerous Throw during Game Three.
Watch Out Sharks: Josh Dugan is back on deck for the Dragons and he's fired up after Wednesday night's humiliating decider. After ripping Cronulla apart back in Round 12, Dugan certainly knows how to have a big game in the local derby. Thanks to Dugan the Dragons defuse the highest proportion of kicks in the league (87%) and his skill returning the ball with play a large part in the outcome of this one. Meanwhile the Sharks have struggled with their kicking game so far this season, making the third most kicking errors in the league with 22. They'll need to improve on Sunday to have a chance of containing Dugan.
Watch Out Dragons: The Dragons attack is possibly the most blunt in the NRL despite the fact they possess one of the best halves combinations. St George Illawarra have the least amount of line-breaks in the competition (38) and least amount of tries (40). With a host of big names returning for the Sharks they'll be hard to get through on Sunday afternoon, particularly playing in front of a vocal home crowd and playing for retribution.
Key Match-Up: Jeff Robson v Benji Marshall. Two playmakers go head-to-head in an all important match-up on Sunday afternoon. While Robson is the tough and consistent pillar of the Sharks attack, Marshall is the brilliant and dynamic spark for the Dragons. Having played 15 games each Robson has 288 tackles to Marshall's 133 and only eight errors to his opposite's 22. However the Kiwi five-eighth dominates most other key statistics. Marshall has made 124 runs to Robson's 67, has 12 try assists to Robson's 4 and 17 tackle breaks to his opposite's 5. While neither will beat the other at their own game, whoever plays their role best will go a long way to determining the outcome of this one.
The History: Played 35; Sharks 16, Dragons 18, Drawn 1. The last time these two met the Dragons annihilated the Sharks 42-6 at Jubilee Oval. Josh Dugan and Benji Marshall were outstanding for the home team.
What Are The Odds: There’s only slightly more wagered on the Dragons to win the local derby but Sportsbet has received a stack of money on St George-Illawarra at the line, where they’re receiving the points start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Steve Carall and Chris Sutton. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 4:00pm
The Way We See It: There is plenty of motivation for both sides on Sunday afternoon. The Sharks are desperate to break into the top eight for the first time this year, and want to make amends for their humiliating performance last time out against their local rivals. For the Dragons, they need to arrest their slide from the top of the table, and will be keen to start rebuilding their great V wall that has been dismantled in recent weeks. This will be an intriguing battle and a winner is almost impossible to pick. We'll go with the Sharks because of their home ground advantage, they'll win by two.