Sharks v Knights: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla Sharks v Newcastle Knights
Southern Cross Group Stadium
Saturday, 3.00pm

Last year's premiers take on the next-to-last placed Knights in their Round 5 Telstra Premiership clash at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday. 

Similar to their Round 4 hit out for the Knights, another massive task awaits Nathan Brown's men with the draw being less than kind to them in the last fortnight, taking on the 2016 champions and the 2017 premiership favourites two weeks in a row away from home.

There will be no love lost heading into the contest as fired-up Mitch Barnett should be fit to take on opposite number Paul Gallen for the second time after a brutal running battle in Round 20 last season.

Gallen labelled Barnett "a winger" after two run-ins in the first half and the in-form Knights lock forward served a two-game suspension for a shoulder charge on Andrew Fifita following the game.

The Sharks bounced back to knock over the Eels in impressive fashion, while the Knights were blown away by a red-hot Panthers outfit and could not keep up with the pace of game. 

After three improved weeks to open the season, the Knights fell apart leaking 40 points, and if the corresponding games against the Sharks last season are anything to go by, they'll be up against it again on Saturday night.

Cronulla put 62 points on the Knights last season in the club's worst defeat in their history, before again piling on 36 the following clash in the Shire for a combined scoreline of 98-4 in 160 minutes.

Shane Flanagan has announced an unchanged line-up with Wade Graham overcoming a knee injury, as James Segeyaro retains his position on the interchange bench after a 20-minute stint last week. 

Knights fullback Brendan Elliot makes a return for the visitors after missing the Panthers clash through concussion in an otherwise unchanged line-up, although Englishman Joe Wardle and former Shark Anthony Tupou could push for a spot in the 17 on Saturday.

Why the Sharks can win: Their big men around the ruck will trouble the Knights, who were rolled up the middle by the Panthers and conceded a season-high 2012 metres. Individually their players are too experienced and skilled in key positions to create something out of anything and will be too desperate to make amends in front of their fans for their local derby loss with the Dragons in Round 3.

Why the Knights can win: The Sharks are the worst in the competition for conceding penalties (38 in total at an average of 9.5 per game) in a sign their ill-discipline is an issue in 2017, with James Maloney and skipper Paul Gallen in the top three culprits. Maloney also leads the competition in most missed tackles (31) for the season. Brown's side has a better record with the referees ranked eighth best and can earn enough field position with the stat to give themselves a chance. 

 


The history: Played 48; Sharks 20; Knights 27; Drawn 1. Despite the Knights boasting a strong overall record, the Sharks have won the last four clashes between the two sides.

What are the odds: Cronulla 13+ is the way Sportsbet punters are going, and the ever-growing line hasn't stopped punters from taking the Sharks there either. Sosaia Feki and Valentine Holmes are the popular picks for first try scorer. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au

Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch judges: Belinda Sleeman and Dave Ryan; Review Officials: Steve Chiddy and Luke Patten.

Televised: Fox League – Live from 3.00pm.

NRL.com predicts: It shapes as a one-sided affair, and you would be very brave to tip the Knights in an upset based on last week's performance and again being away from home. The Sharks should have the upper hand right from the start and cruise to victory. Sharks 13+.