Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v Cronulla Sharks
If the Sharks want to be true contenders in 2016 they should make short work of the Knights on Sunday.
The Sharks have won their past six games to be tied atop the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder. The Knights have just three competition points over the opening nine games of the season.
The loss of in-form Sharks forward Jayson Bukuya will hurt but it just means Joseph Paulo and David Fifita will spend the week fighting for a bench spot.
Newcastle will be looking to reverse their 38-point last start loss to the Roosters and have named the Saifiti twins and Sam Mataora to start in place of the benched Mickey Paea, Jack Stockwell and Korbin Sims.
Watch out Knights: Skipper Paul Gallen put forward a Man of the Match performance (227 metres and 32 tackles) for Australia at Hunter Stadium and he should be ready to go when he runs out again for the Sharks after a nine day turnaround. Cronulla's current roll will help their captain's cause too. The Sharks are coming off a two-point last start win over competition favourites Brisbane.
Watch out Sharks: The experience Daniel Saifiti and Danny Levi would've received during representative round will be invaluable for their rugby league maturation. Levi served as 19th man for Stephen Kearney's Kiwis squad and spent the week alongside veterans Jesse Bromwich, Shaun Johnson and Adam Blair. Saifiti, on the other hand, played for Fiji. The Bati's loss to Papua New Guinea aside, Saifiti dominated in his 49-minute stint with 180 metres and 26 tackles.
Key Match-Up: Trent Hodkinson v Chad Townsend. Townsend is arguably the most in-form halfback eligible for New South Wales currently and is in the top 15 for try assists competition-wide. This weekend he'll come up against the Blues incumbent No. 7 in Hodkinson. Halfbacks are only as good as the space afforded to them by their forwards and that's exactly the case when it comes to these playmakers. A big performance from either man will impact their Origin chances one way or the other.
The History: Played 46; Knights 27, Sharks 18, Drawn 1. The Sharks reigned supreme in their two meetings against Newcastle last year but beyond that the Knights have dominated the Sharks in recent seasons. Between 2010 and 2014, Newcastle won eight of their 10 meetings against Cronulla.
What are the Odds: Sportsbet is struggling to take a bet on Newcastle despite the huge price on offer. There are five times as many individual bets on the Sharks to win the game and they’re even well backed to cover the big line in handicap betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Matt Noyen. Sideline Officials: Rick MacFarlane and David Ryan.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 1:30pm.
The way we see it: The Sharks could very well finish Round 10 atop the NRL Telstra Premiership if things swing their way. Their six-game winning-streak is too hard to deny at the moment and they will surely make it lucky number seven up in Newcastle. The Knights should improve from their awful showing against the Roosters but it won't be enough. Sharks by 14.