Holden Cup Preview: Sharks v Sea Eagles
Holden Cup Semi Final: Cronulla Sharks v Manly Sea Eagles
Have the wheels completely fallen off the Cronulla juggernaut? A 15-game winning streak had people tipping them to win the grand final by 50 points, but having dropped three matches in a row they find themselves in a sudden-death encounter against a Manly side that is riding a wave of momentum after upsetting the Cowboys.
The Sharks were belted 35-22 by the Eels in week one of the finals and it should have been a whole lot worse. While there were positive signs in attack, the minor premiers missed 47 tackles – more than any other team last week – and were outrun by their opponents by nearly 500 metres.
In contrast, Manly looked comfortable against their more-fancied rivals with Tevita Funa scoring two tries while bench utility Cade Cust had three assists in the 14-point win.
The Sharks snuck past the Sea Eagles 34-30 when they met earlier in the year but have been dealt a huge blow with Team of the Year back-rower Briton Nikora suspended for two matches for a dangerous throw.
Why the Sharks can win: The weight of history is against Cronulla – they haven't won a finals match since 2011 – and with the format of the under-20s competition set to shift gears next year, time is fast running out for them to break the hoodoo. The Sharks were bundled out in straight sets last year and the pain of their 2016 capitulation must surely be driving their current squad as they look to reap the rewards for an outstanding regular season. They were a class above the chasing pack and as long as they can remember what worked for them just a month ago, they should be fine this weekend.
Why the Sea Eagles can win: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. No one gave the Sea Eagles much hope last week but they proved everyone wrong with a fairly easy win. Nobody is giving them a chance this weekend either and that's exactly how the Sea Eagles want it. Underdog status at this time of the year is a glorious thing, especially for a side that has shown it can pile on the points when given a fair share of possession. If hooker Manase Fainu is given time out of dummy-half to work his magic then it will be a long night for Cronulla's ruck defence.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 4:55pm.
NRL.com predicts: Sharks by 14