Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla Sharks v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Southern Cross Group Stadium
Round 20 in all likelihood can't come quick enough for both the Sharks and Rabbitohs after their respective losses last weekend.
The premiers probably wouldn't have expected to receive the kind of treatment they did up on the Gold Coast; while the Titans are a serious footy team, to lose 30-10 to a team so far below them on the ladder would've been a tough pill to swallow for Shane Flanagan's men.
Their hefty Origin cohort have had a tough two months; this week James Maloney returns from a one-week rest with Andrew Fifita back in the starting side and all six Sharks Origin reps need to dust themselves off and refocus on a charge to the finals.
Luke Lewis also moves into the starting team with Jason Bukuya and Sam Tagataese dropping to the pine; Luke Capewell misses out as Maloney's return pushes Jack Bird back to the centres.
The Bunnies missed a big opportunity in Cairns last week in what was technically their home game against the Cowboys. Their commanding Round 17 win over the Panthers seems a long while ago after a close loss to an understrength Roosters followed by that underwhelming one last week to the Cowboys.
Coach Michael Maguire has named Aaron Gray to return on the wing and hooker Damien Cook on the bench with Braidon Burns and Cam Murray both dropping to the reserves.
Why Sharks can win: The premiers will be out to show last week's effort was just a blip on the radar of their title defence and if you're looking for evidence of what they're capable of you only have to cast your mind back as far as their previous game – a comprehensive 44-12 dismantling of the second-placed Roosters. It was the Roosters' biggest loss of the year and a contender for best performance by any team in a club game this year. The team completed at 90 per cent and outran their opponents by a monstrous 650 metres. Veterans Wade Graham, Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen all ran over 140 metres and everyone in the back five scored a try. If the Sharks can replicate even some of that, Friday night could be tough for the Bunnies.
Why Rabbitohs can win: Much like their opponents, Round 17 is the place to look for inspiration for the Rabbitohs. The 42-14 result is perhaps best remembered for flyer Alex Johnston's stunning five-try haul but it was built on a slick all-round team performance. A completion rate of 86 per cent and a similar dominance in run metres (close to 400 metres better than the Panthers that day) were capped by a sublime kicking performance from halfback Adam Reynolds, who created four of the team's seven tries. If his forward pack can give him a solid platform the little No.7 has the kicking game to make life tough for Cronulla's in-form back five.
 Telstra Premiership: Paul Gallen vs Sam Burgess
Hit Ups, All Run Metres, Tackle Breaks, Tackles.
The history: Played 85, Sharks 44, Rabbitohs 38; Drawn 3. Things have gone very win-loss between these two clubs in recent years with the past 10 games split 10-apiece. Souths have had a trickier time in the Shire though with just one win from their past five trips across Tom Ugly's Bridge.
What are the odds: This is the most one-sided game of the round according to Sportsbet with 98 per cent of the money on the Sharks in the head-to-head market. The premiers have been extremely well backed at the line as well, where they're giving away a decent points start. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Adam Gee; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch judges: Rohan Best and Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Review Official: Luke Patten; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm. Fox Sports – Live from 7.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: Souths aren't without a hope in this but we'll back the premiers to hit back from their big shock loss last week with a 10-point win.