Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla Sharks v Manly Sea Eagles
Southern Cross Group Stadium
The Sharks are in seventh heaven at the moment on the back of – you guessed it – seven straight wins and are riding high following their record 62-0 drubbing of the Newcastle Knights on Sunday.
The victory matched their equal-biggest winning margin which was set against this weekend's opponents the Sea Eagles when they trounced them 68-6 in 2005.
Manly fullback Brett Stewart didn't last seven minutes on that fateful Sunday afternoon and hasn't been named for Saturday night's match due to an ongoing hamstring complaint.
He was a welcome addition in Manly's Round 3 clash with Cronulla earlier this year in what doubled as his first game of 2016. 'Snake' scored a try and helped orchestrate a gutsy 22-12 win despite the Sea Eagles not touching the ball for the first 10 minutes of the contest.
They would love him out there this weekend as they look to snap a two-game losing streak; those defeats albeit coming against last year's grand finalists.
Matt Prior (knee) will miss a week for the Sharks and has been replaced by Jayson Bukuya who returns from suspension.
The Sea Eagles have made a number of changes with Steve Matai slotting back into the centres while Jamie Buhrer plays his first game since breaking his thumb against the Roosters in Round 4. Josh Starling also returns via the bench with Tom Symonds and Addin Fonua-Blake making way. Martin Taupau will miss the next three weeks through suspension.
Watch out Sharks: Perhaps the only thing that can stop the high-flying Sharks is their abysmal record against this weekend's opponent. Home ground advantage won't count for much either in this one with the Sea Eagles winning seven of their past eight games at the venue, including a 14-12 thriller in 2015 that cost the Sharks a top four finish.
Watch out Sea Eagles: The Cronulla back three are in scintillating form after combining for eight tries against the Knights in Round 10. Wingers Valentine Holmes (four tries) and Sosaia Feki (three) were virtually unstoppable on Sunday afternoon while fullback Ben Barba scored one himself and added two try assists as well. Throw in six line breaks and 435 metres and they'll head into this one smelling blood in the water.
Key match-up: Michael Ennis v Matt Parcell. Contrasting styles will go head-to-head on Saturday night in what shapes as an enthralling battle at the base of the scrum. Michael Ennis appears to have been bottled from the same vintage as Broncos veteran Corey Parker with both men getting better with age. The Sharks No.9 boasts eight try assists this year and crossed for his first four-pointer of the season in his last game at home. While Ennis is a wily conductor, Parcell is probably the fastest dummy-half in the competition and hurts teams with his agility. The season's first meeting between the sides was his breakout game with Parcell scoring a try and making 55 tackles in what was his first career start in the NRL.
The history: Played 87; Sharks 23, Sea Eagles 62, Drawn 2. Manly have won 13 of the past 14 clashes between these two sides including seven straight from 2013 onwards. This has developed into one of the most one-sided fixtures on the calendar with the Sea Eagles lifting no matter where they might be on the ladder. The sides met in Round 3 this year with Manly winning 22-12 at Brookvale Oval after starting the season 0-2. It was a night out for the Trbojevic brothers with both Tom running for 200 metres, Jake making 46 tackles and both youngsters scoring tries.
What are the odds: Sportsbet is struggling to take a bet on the Sea Eagles, with 99 per cent of punters' money predicting a strong win for the Sharks. Valentine Homes is best backed to score the first try of the match, but decent money is coming in for Ben Barba and Sosaia Feki. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant referee: Alan Shortall. Sideline officials: Belinda Sleeman and Brett Suttor.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
The way we see it: After a couple of tight wins at home, the Sharks found their mojo last week to confirm their status as genuine premiership contenders. They are unbeaten in two months and have yet to taste defeat at home this season. Their mix of powerful forwards and flashy outside backs spells trouble for a Manly side desperate to get their campaign back on track. History says they're no chance but form says they can't lose. Sharks to win the battle of the beaches and end the hoodoo by 14 points.