Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Manly Sea Eagles preview
The Sea Eagles will know what their fate holds after the Dragons player the Wests Tigers on Saturday night – around 20 hours before Manly are due to play against the Sharks.
Theoretically the eighth-placed Dragons have a two competition point buffer and a 61 point differential buffer on the ninth-placed Sea Eagles, meaning if the Red V beat the Wests Tigers then Manly's season is over.
However if the Tigers win then the Sea Eagles are still in the hunt, especially if the Dragons' opponents somehow pull off a victory similar to their 34 point win over the Warriors last weekend, then it's up to Manly to make up the difference.
Regardless, a win for the Sharks over their bogey team in the Sea Eagles means they'll shore up a top four berth and secure a likely finals clash with the Roosters – who they have beaten twice this season.
The Sharks welcome back Anthony Tupou and Ben Barba on an extended bench at the expense of Blake Ayshford. Willie Mason's Sea Eagles career is over due to suspension with Ligi Sao starting at prop and Jesse Sene-Lefao coming onto the bench.
Watch out Sharks: In his final game as a Sea Eagle – bar a miracle – five-eighth Kieran Foran will be looking to leave the club with a bang. After an injury interrupted opening to the year, the Eels-bound half is now averaging 101.2 metres and two tackle breaks per game and has produced a further 12 try assists.
Watch out Sea Eagles: Cronulla are one of the most prolific offloading clubs in the NRL. Producing 247 offloads – the sixth most competition wide – the Sea Eagles should remain wary of the Sharks especially captain Paul Gallen (33 offloads – 10th in NRL) and five-eighth Jack Bird (26 – 20th in NRL) with Manly being one of the worst offloading teams themselves.
Key Match-Up: Michael Ennis v Daly Cherry-Evans – A hooker taking on a halfback isn't your typical match up, but considering they are the linchpins for their respective side's attacking fortunes it's a valid one. Ennis has been a star in the Shire in 2015. His 15 try assists and 13 line break assists have helped Cronulla to their lofty position in the ladder. Daly Cherry-Evans' Sea Eagles have been a mixed bag this season but it hasn't stopped him coming up with 18 try assists (2nd in the league).
The History: Played 85; Sharks 23, Sea Eagles 60, Draw 2. The Sea Eagles have won 11 of their past 12 games dating back to 2008, including their most recent 28-16 win back in Round 17. In fact the Sharks have struggled against Manly since their inception in 1967. They've only managed to win consecutive games just three times – in 1985, the two games either side of the failed Northern Eagles experiment in 1999 and 2003, and in 2004.
What are the Odds: Cronulla are all the rage with Sportsbet punters. The money is running two to one in head to head markets and 70 per cent of bets have been placed on the Sharks to cover the line. Valentine Holmes is extremely popular in the first try scoring market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Sideline Officials: Michael Wise and Rick MacFarlane. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 3:30pm
The Way We See It: The Sharks desire for a top four berth, if they are to be taken as serious contenders for this year's premiership, should outdo the Sea Eagles mathematical chances of making the finals. It's hard to predict how Manly will react and push themselves in this one considering their fate is completely dependent on how the Dragons perform against the Tigers. With their future completely in their hands, Sharks should buck eight years of history to win by four points.