Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Sydney Roosters
Southern Cross Group Stadium
This was meant to be the night the Sharks passed Eastern Suburbs' record of 19 straight wins.
Riding a 15-game winning streak, the men from the Shire looked unbeatable a month ago. Now they would give anything for two competition points.
Their quest for the minor premiership appears over, with Cronulla now duking it out with the Raiders to clinch a top-two finish and home ground advantage for the finals series.
Having gone down to the 2010 and 2014 premiers in the past fortnight, the Sharks will try to get their season back on track against the 2013 grand final winners who just so happen to be one of the form sides of the competition.
It's been a season to forget for the Roosters, but their late-season revival has given fans plenty of reason to believe for 2017.
The Tricolours dismantled the defending premiers two weeks ago and were even better on Sunday as they trounced the Dragons 42-6 to end their season.
They've named the same 17 that took care of the Red V, but it's a different story for the Sharks who are set to welcome back some much-needed cavalry.
Paul Gallen (calf) has been named to return at lock, Chris Heighington shifts back to the bench in place of Kurt Capewell while Sosaia Feki (groin) also returns on the wing in place of Gerard Beale.
Watch out Sharks: In the five games since he moved to fullback, Blake Ferguson has scored four tries, produced five try assists, averaged 180 metres per game, and broken 30 tackles for the Tricolours. He was simply unstoppable against the Dragons on Sunday in a game that saw him score two tries, set one up, run for 207 metres and break 11 tackles. He also has a great strike rate against the Sharks, with six tries from seven matches against his former club.
Watch out Roosters: While their defence has improved drastically in recent weeks, the Roosters remain susceptible to allowing soft tries close to their own line. The Tricolours have conceded 88 tries this year with a whopping 45 of them coming from 0-10 metres out. That also happens to be Cronulla's most profitable place to attack from, with the Sharks scoring 40 of their 92 tries from close range.
Key match-up: Andrew Fifita v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. If Sydney's horrible weather continues this weekend then the battle of the big men up front will be telling. Andrew Fifita has been one of the premier props in 2016, and stepped up in Gallen's absence last week with 239 running metres and 35 tackles (zero misses). He has made 3,372 metres already this year (fifth in the NRL) has produced 53 offloads (third) and has 95 tackle busts (eighth). It's been a different story for Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who has been on the comeback trail following a serious knee injury in 2015. But with the lure of a Four Nations jersey at the end of the year, he has returned to career-best form in recent weeks. His opening stint against the Dragons was nothing short of immense, with the Roosters enforcer making 134 metres in the opening 30 minutes.
The history: Played 90; Sharks 32; Roosters 56, Drawn 2. The Roosters have an outstanding overall record against the men from the Shire, but it's been all Cronulla lately with the Sharks winning the past four encounters.
What are the odds: The Roosters have been the big firmers with Sportsbet and slightly more money has gone on the outsiders. Roosters 1-12 is the best backed winning margin and they've been extremely popular in handicap betting where they're receiving the points start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant referee: David Munro. Sideline officials: Nick Beashel and Jason Walsh. Review officials: Jason Robinson, Bryan Norrie. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
The way we see it: If tipping was purely based on ladder positions then the Sharks would win this by 50. But it's not, and the fact of the matter is the Roosters are simply not in the same league as most 14th-placed sides. Can James Maloney get one over his former side, or will great mate Mitchell Pearce continue his freakish form? Roosters by 6.
Game on. Data off.
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