Schick Preview: Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sharks
Rugby league can be a cruel game sometimes.
The Sharks headed to Melbourne last week with the chance of winning their first minor premiership since 1999.
That chance slipped away as the Storm prevailed by 20 points. Making matters worse, Cronulla wouldn't even finish second with the Raiders leapfrogging them less than 24 hours later after flogging the Wests Tigers 52-10.
Canberra welcome back prop Junior Paulo (back) who will start instead of now 18th man Paul Vaughan as Ricky Stuart's men look to make it a whopping 11-straight victories.
The Sharks have lost Joseph Paulo (knee) for a couple of weeks but coach Shane Flanagan has welcomed back Ricky Leutele. Leutele starts in the centres and Gerard Beale returns to the bench and will be joined by 18th man Kurt Capewell.
Watch out Raiders: Retiring Sharks hooker Michael Ennis has missed one game this season and not only did it coincide with the last time his side faced the Raiders, it also signalled the end of Cronulla's unbeaten run of 16 games. Ennis has laid on 10 tries this year from dummy half and averaged 36.3 tackles per game. His work in the middle was sorely missed against Canberra six weeks ago as opposition rake Josh Hodgson ran rampant.
Watch out Sharks: Jordan Rapana and Joey Leilua have combined so well this year they now have their own couple name. 'Leipana' have scored just over a quarter of Canberra's tries this year between them (Rapana 20, Leilua 11) while combining for 16 try assists and 245 tackle breaks. It spells bad news for Sharks' left-edge players, particularly the competition's biggest defensive battler James Maloney (99 missed tackles).
Key match-up: Jack Wighton v Ben Barba. With Wighton cleared by the judiciary on Tuesday night, a highly-anticipated clash with Sharks counterpart Ben Barba beckons. Barba has been one of the NRL's success stories in 2016. With 18 try assists and 15 tries to his name Barba has proved a perfect foil for Sharks halves James Maloney and Chad Townsend. Wighton benefits Canberra most as a running fullback (137.1 metres per game) but is more than capable of laying on tries with eight tries and 12 assists under his belt already this year.
The history: Played 66; Raiders 31, Sharks 35. The Raiders and Sharks have traded wins in 2016. They last played in Round 22 when the Raiders prevailed by 16 points at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Since 2010 that these teams have traded two wins for two losses.
What are the odds: Eighty per cent of money has been for the Raiders in the head-to-head market, and Canberra 13-plus is the best backed winning option with Sportsbet punters. Rapana is most popular in the first try scorer market ahead of skipper Jarrod Croker. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Sideline Officials: Rickey McFarlane and Jeff Younis.
Televised: Channel Nine - Live Coverage from 5pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 4:55pm.
The way we see it: There seems to be too many points in the Raiders to deny them the win on Saturday afternoon. The Raiders haven't scored scored less than 20 points in a game since their last loss to the Broncos back in Round 14. Cronulla have managed to score more than 20 points just once in their past six games. Raiders by 10 points.
Game on. Data off.
Stream every NRL game, including finals, live and data free with a 2016 Footy Pass, exclusive to Telstra mobile.
Watch all the NRL action live on your compatible tablet or mobile device with data-free streaming on your Telstra mobile plan.
For use in Australia only.