Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Canberra Raiders
Southern Cross Group Stadium
With the premiers looking to shore up a vital top-four slot and the Raiders desperate to keep their slim final hopes alive, get ready to see two desperate teams go at it at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
Both teams are coming off convincing last-start wins so should bring plenty of confidence as well.
Having never really looked in trouble in Auckland last week Cronulla will be relishing a return to their home patch. They also regain the services of Jack Bird for just the second time since Origin III following his withdrawal last weekend.
He pushes Kurt Capewell to the interchange and Adam Clydsdale to the reserves in the only change. Nu Brown has pulled through from a nasty concussion to take his place at five-eighth in the ongoing absence of James Maloney.
A week ago Canberra needed to win six from six to make the finals; now it is five from five (or, mathematically four from five if other results favour them). Still a massive ask but they can make it easier again with a win here.
They get a double roster boost with suspended pair Jordan Rapana and Josh Papalii each returning. Winger Michael Oldfield drops out and Joe Tapine returns the bench pushing Jeff Lima to the reserves. Luke Bateman has again been named at lock with Kurt Baptiste on the bench but don't be surprised to see the usual late change with Baptiste starting at hooker and Josh Hodgson at lock.
Why Sharks can win: The good news for Cronulla fans is that since a horror post-Origin III loss on the Gold Coast, their consecutive wins have looked completely untroubled despite not playing anywhere near their dominant best. The 26-12 score-line a fortnight ago didn't reflect how close Souths kept that contest but the Sharks never really looked like losing. An identical 26-12 final score last week was a fairer reflection of the control Cronulla exerted over the Warriors. They held at least 55 per cent of the ball in both games (completing at 85 per cent against the Warriors and forcing five drop outs against Souths) with the likes of Andrew Fifita (260 metres), Paul Gallen (a massive 412 metres), Wade Graham (212) and Matt Prior (203 metres) getting through a ton of yardage in those two games.
Why Raiders can win: The Raiders are very much a confidence team and confidence is probably the main thing they've lacked this year at crucial times. It also looks to have returned of late, with two wins in the past three rounds sandwiching a tough loss to the ladder-leading Storm. Most notably, halves Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin are each playing their best footy of the year, and it shows. Sezer in particular has had a great three weeks; it turned around on his dual match-winning plays against the Dragons (a long-range intercept try and match-winning 40/20), continued with two tries in the loss to the Storm and he played a fine hand against Souths last week including a brilliant pass for Michael Oldfield's try.
 Telstra Premiership: Luke Lewis vs Josh Papalii
Tackles, Line Breaks, Offloads, All Run Metres.
The history: Played 68; Sharks 37; Raiders 31. The away team tends to get the chocolates in meetings between these two teams of late: the Raiders have won five of their past seven at Shark Park, including their last three straight. In that time the Sharks have won the past five meetings in Canberra.
What are the odds: Nearly four times as much money has been placed on Canberra in Sportsbet's head-to-head market with punters identifying the Raiders as the value bet of the round. Canberra 1-12 is the best backed winning margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Adam Gee; Touch judges: Michael Wise and Jeff Younis; Review Official: Bernard Sutton; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine and Fox League – Live from 7.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: Following the recent pattern of away wins between these clubs the Raiders are due a win and after their confidence-booster last week and with two key men returning they have the firepower to trouble the Sharks. If your tipping comp standing requires an upset this weekend this isn't a bad game to try it in; we'll take the Raiders by six.