Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla Sharks v Newcastle Knights
Southern Cross Group Stadium
Just when the Knights look to be turning a corner, their season from hell presents another problem – or four.
Following a narrow loss to the Storm last weekend, the Knights will be back to square one with four of their best set to miss the Sharks on Sunday afternoon.
The absence of Jake Mamo, Daniel Saifiti (both suspended), Robbie Rochow (pectoral) and Sione Mata'utia (jaw) leaves a massive void for Knights coach Nathan Brown to fill.
Dane Gagai's return this week was always expected but the same cannot be said for the inclusion of Pauli Pauli in the back row or Jacob Saifiti, Mickey Paea and 18th man David Bhana on the bench.
Meanwhile it's all systems a go for the Sharks, who have resisted the temptation to rest any of their Origin stars.
Andrew Fifita returns from suspension and Fa'amanu Brown drops out of the team as the Sharks look to make it an unbelievable 15 straight wins.
Watch out Sharks: Jarrod Mullen's return from a long-term hamstring injury last weekend made Newcastle look like a completely different side. The former New South Wales representative's kicking game (17 kicks for 427 metres) was vital as it allowed halves partner Trent Hodkinson to focus on other aspects of the Knights' attack.
Watch out Knights: Andrew Fifita will be ready to explode against the Knights. He missed the Sharks' last-start win over the Roosters due to the contrary conduct charge he racked up in State of Origin III. With an average of 166 metres and 29 tackles per game this year Fifita's impact could be the Knights' undoing.
Key match-up: Cronulla's right edge v Newcastle's left edge. Like the rest of the Knights' left edge, Peter Mata'utia and back-rower Mitch Barnett in particular have their work cut out for them. Jack Bird, Luke Lewis and Valentine Holmes have been a constant threat for Cronulla this season and are sure to test out the last-placed Knights. Holmes sits second on the NRL top try-scorers tally with 13, so you can bet halfback Chad Townsend will be sending the ball his way.
The history: Played 47; Sharks 19, Knights 27, Drawn 1. After a lean start to the 2010s against the Knights, the Sharks have done very well to win the last three games between the teams, including a huge win in Round 10. On that fateful Sunday afternoon the Sharks won 62-0 as wingers Holmes and Sosaia Feki combined for seven tries.
What are the odds: Sharks $1.05, Knights $10. Sportsbet punters are shying away from the prohibitive odds for Cronulla and backing Newcastle in the hope of the upset of the season. So far 75 per cent of money is on the Knights in the head-to-head market due to the price on offer while 85 per cent of money is on the Knights at the line as well. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au http://www.sportsbet.com.au/betting/rugby-league/
Match officials: Referee: Dave Munro. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis and Adam Reid.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 1:35pm.
The way we see it: The Sharks will make it 15 straight. Whether it's as big a flogging as it was in May remains to be seen, though the Knights haven't been terrible of late. Their last two losses could have easily been wins. In saying that, it's hard to see the Sharks' lengthy winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Knights. Cronulla by 10 points.