Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
All eyes will be fixed on Friday night's blockbuster Queensland derby between the Broncos and Cowboys. And rightly so. It's the definitive modern-day rivalry in rugby league.
But there's another rivalry brewing in the nation's capital, and a new chapter will be added on Saturday night.
Last year's game between the Raiders and Sharks in Week One of the finals had more talking points than a Game of Thrones season finale.
The Sharks were keen to avenge their loss to Canberra earlier in the year that snapped a seemingly-endless 16-game unbeaten run, but their cause wasn't helped by the pre-game withdrawal of Paul Gallen (back) or the loss of Wade Graham (concussion) after seven minutes.
Trailing 12-0 early, it looked like the Sharks were on track for a costly loss. But up stepped unheralded forwards Matt Prior and Kurt Capewell, with the pair combining for nearly 400 metres, 75 tackles and a try as Cronulla fought back to snatch an unlikely 16-14 win.
The drama didn't end at the full-time whistle, as serial pest Michael Ennis riled the 25,592 fans in attendance with his version of the Viking clap which sparked condemnation from Raiders coach Ricky Stuart.
Ennis won't be there this time around, but that won't stop the Raiders faithful from making plenty of noise.
Both sides are coming off Round 1 losses against the 2015 grand finalists, with the Raiders pushing the Cowboys to golden point only to be sunk by a freakish try, while the Sharks were outclassed by the Broncos on home turf.
Canberra welcome back Jack Wighton (illness) and Junior Paulo (suspension), but they've lost Clay Priest (suspension) and Joseph Tapine (finger) for the clash. Scott Sorensen joins the bench against his former club.
The Sharks have named the same side that fell to the Broncos, with fullback Valentine Holmes (hamstring) at least another week away.
Why the Raiders can win: In Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana, the Raiders boast the most destructive right-edge pairing in the NRL. Their size, speed and ability to offload makes them a formidable proposition for any defensive unit, and as we saw last week in Townsville, they have carried last season's form into 2017. The Green Machine scored 42 tries down that channel in 2016, while Cronulla's left edge conceded 27. They were exposed a couple of times in the season opener with Jordan Kahu getting across the line courtesy of a poor read by Sosaia Feki. Expect them to be targeted again on Saturday.
Why the Sharks can win: GIO Stadium has been a fortress for Canberra over the years, but if there's one team that doesn't mind heading down to the nation's capital, it's Cronulla. The Sharks have won their past four – and 10 of their past 13 – at the venue, including last year's finals clash. They've also scored 30+ points in six of those victories.
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Tackles, All Run Metres, Tackle Breaks, Offloads.
The history: Played 67; Raiders 31; Sharks 36. Nothing has separated these sides in recent times with the ledger split down the middle in their past 10 meetings. Incredibly, the away side has won the past seven clashes. Cronulla got the ball rolling with a crushing 40-16 win in Round 7 last year, before they had their unbeaten streak snapped by a rampant Raiders side in Round 22. The Sharks exacted revenge in Week One of the finals with a stirring comeback that set them on their way to premiership success.
What are the odds: Canberra have been big firmers since Sportsbet opened markets on this game. 70 per cent of money on the head-to-head market is with the Raiders to exact revenge on the Sharks, who beat them in last year's finals series. And punters are expecting a big win, with Canberra 13+ extremely popular. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant referee: Chris James. Sideline officials: Brett Suttor and Nick Morel.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
NRL.com predicts: The last time a defending premier lost its opening two matches was the 2009 Sea Eagles. It's an unwanted slice of history the Sharks will be keen to avoid, but something tells me Josh Hodgson is going to run riot on Saturday night in front of a raucous Canberra crowd. Raiders by 8.