Schick Hydro Preview: Sydney Roosters v Cronulla Sharks
They survived a black cat in Penrith last week, now the Sharks must overcome another superstition if they are to consolidate their spot atop the Telstra Premiership ladder.
Sitting on 13 wins, Sharks fans will be hoping their team can avoid the baker's dozen curse to continue a streak that has been every bit as good as the invention of sliced bread.
They'll have to do it against a Roosters side that will be stinging after suffering yet another agonising defeat to record their eighth loss in 2016 by four points or less.
With finals now a mathematical improbability, it will be interesting to see what style of footy the three-time defending minor premiers produce for the rest of the regular season.
Roosters duo Blake Ferguson and Aidan Guerra have not been named to back up from Origin, while Ryan Matterson replaces Jackson Hastings at five-eighth. Boyd Cordner will start in the back row in his second match back from injury.
Unlike the Tricolours, Cronulla will welcome back their Origin stars, with Paul Gallen, Jack Bird, James Maloney, Wade Graham and Andrew Fifita all expected to back up.
Watch out Roosters: It's premature to suggest Ben Barba has returned to the 2012 form that saw him win the Dally M Medal, but he's getting pretty close. The Sharks fullback is coming off a crucial double against the Panthers that guided his side to victory without their Origin stars. He is now third in the competition with 11 tries, and also boasts nine try assists. The news doesn't get any better for the Roosters, as Barba has scored eight tries from just nine matches against the red, white and blue. Interestingly, this will be the first time he's played against them as a Shark.
Watch out Sharks: The return of Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce has helped the side's attack in a number of ways, but perhaps the biggest change has been their threat in the air. Pearce's pinpoint kicking game has added another dimension to their attack, and has turned Daniel Tupou into one of their most dangerous weapons. The flying winger soared above the Bulldogs to score a fortnight ago, and helped set up two tries against the Eels courtesy of his unrivalled reach. Tupou is listed at 196cm and will have an 11cm height advantage over Sharks winger Valentine Holmes.
Key match-up: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves v Andrew Fifita. There are few things better in life than seeing two big hombres go toe-to-toe on a cold Monday night in Sydney. Waerea-Hargreaves has made the most of his return from an ACL injury, seamlessly slotting back into the role as forwards leader. While his numbers haven't been as consistent as he would have liked, he is still regarded as one of the premier props in the game, and boasts a 247-metre game under his belt this year. He'll have to be at his best to contain Andrew Fifita, who has developed into one of the game's elite players. The Sharks battering ram is averaging just shy of 200 metres in his last five games, and is the leading forward with 76 tackle breaks in 2016. His incredible motor, coupled with his ability to swat away defenders as if they were flies, makes him the prototype of what a modern-day prop needs to be.
The history: Played 89; Roosters 56, Sharks 31, Drawn 2. The Roosters won 13 of the first 15 meetings between the sides, but the tide has slowly turned in recent times. The Sharks have won the past three, but have never won four in a row against the Tricolours. Both matches last year were tight affairs, with the corresponding fixture at Allianz doubling as Jack Bird's NRL debut. He scored a double and hasn't looked back since.
What are the odds: Apart from the one punter with Sportsbet who's had $3,500 on the Roosters to win by 13+ at $5.00, all the money has been on the Sharks to win the game by 13 points or more as well as to cover the line. Latest odds at Sportsbet http://www.sportsbet.com.au/betting/rugby-league/nrl?QuickLinks.
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant referee: David Munro. Sideline officials: Jeff Younis and Adam Gee.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 6:30pm.
The way we see it: When the Roosters took on former fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck this season, the Warriors wunderkind broke their hearts with a try in golden point. Former Roosters star Michael Jennings didn't play last week, but that didn't stop his Eels teammates from inflicting another brutal loss on the Tricolours. Now the Bondi boys take on James Maloney, the third and final member of the trio that departed at the end of the 2015 season. Will history repeat? Sharks by 13.