Sharks v Dragons: Grudge match kicks off Round 2
Plenty of eyes will be on Josh Dugan, who made a well documented off-season switch from the Dragons to arch rivals Cronulla.
In light of the incessant roasting Wests Tigers fans gave former golden boy James Tedesco in the round one stoush with the Roosters, it'll be interesting to see how Dugan is received by Dragons followers in his first home game in a Sharks jersey.
The Dragons' display in their convincing win over Brisbane was one of the more impressive performances in the opening round, while the Sharks were first-up losers to the Cowboys but were in striking distance until the closing stages.
In a long-standing annual battle for bragging rights, both teams will be looking to draw first blood in their initial meeting for 2018.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has handed under fire Valentine Holmes another shot at fullback, with off-season recruit Aaron Gray a straight swap on the wing for the injured Sione Katoa (broken jaw).
Jayson Bukuya will start in the second-row alongside co-captain Wade Graham, with Luke Lewis (foot) remaining on the sidelines.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor only makes once change following their impressive first up win against the Broncos, with Hame Sele a straight swap on the interchange bench for Jeremy Latimore.
The key match-up: Valentine Holmes v Matt Dufty. It was a tough start to the season for Kangaroos flyer Holmes, who now faces questions over his long-term fullback in the No.1 jersey. In his team's 20-14 loss at Townsville he missed tackles on all four Cowboys tries, struggled under the high ball (with one drop) and had no creative statistics, running under 100 metres. While Dufty wasn't a focal point in the Dragons' big win over Brisbane, he had no errors of missed tackles and busted eight tackles.
For Sharks to win: A horror 62% completion rate and uncharacteristically flimsy goal-line defence did the Sharks in last week. Missing 38 tackles and giving up 10 penalties didn't aid their cause either. They have the quality in the side but their playmakers didn't get much of a chance with that sort of ill-discipline. Lift those numbers and they'll present a far sterner challenge in round two.
For Dragons to win: More of the same. Brisbane were admittedly poor last week and their halves Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt rightly earned a bucket load of plaudits but it was the forward platform that made the win. Five members of the Red V's pack (plus three outside backs) bettered 100 running metres with Leeson Ah Mau (174 metres in just 39 minutes) and Paul Vaughan (168 metres) particularly hard to stop.
Sharks Stat Attack: Last year Cronulla were the best in the NRL at not conceding tries through the middle channel, second-best (after Melbourne) in terms of right channel defence but third-worst of any club through the left channel. With Matt Moylan replacing James Maloney on that edge things haven't improved so far, with three of four tries conceded last week coming on the left channel.
Dragons Stat Attack: Gareth Widdop's three line break assists were the most of any player in the opening round. They all came in the second half; two were tries he set up for Euan Aitken and Jason Nightingale on the right edge and the other was a break up the middle for Matt Dufty. For all the talk about Ben Hunt taking control of the team, there has certainly been no dulling of the England Test star's creative influence on the side.
And another thing: There's nothing like a local derby, and Shark Park has never been a happy hunting ground for Dragons coach Paul McGregor. He never won there as a player and his first two trips as a coach resulted in a pair of losses by a combined 48-point margin. A tense 16-10 win in round 3 last year was his first success at the sixth attempt – will it be a case of normal service resuming or has the hoodoo been broken?
The prediction: Dragons by 8
Sharks: 1 Valentine Holmes, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Josh Dugan, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Aaron Gray, 6 Matthew Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matthew Prior, 11 Jayson Bukuya, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Paul Gallen (c)
Interchange: 14 Kurt Capewell, 15 James Segeyaro, 16 Avagalu Seumanufagai, 17 Joseph Paulo
Reserves: 18 Kurt Dillon, 19 Trent Hodkinson, 20 Jesse Ramien, 21 Jack Williams
Dragons: 1 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin
Interchange: 14 Luciano Leilua, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Hame Sele
Reserves: 18 Jeremy Latimore, 19 Zachary Lomax, 20 Reece Robson, 21 Blake Lawrie
Match: Sharks v Dragons
Round 2 -
Venue: Southern Cross Group Stadium
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Thursday March 15, 8.05pm AEDT, Southern Cross Group Stadium
Head-to-head: 40 games, Sharks 19 wins, Dragons 20 wins, 1 draw
Matches at the venue: 18 games, Sharks 11 wins, Dragons 7 wins
Last five games: Dragons 3 wins; Sharks 2 wins
2017 matches: Dragons won 16-10 in round 3; Sharks won 18-14 in round 10
2017 points per game: Sharks 19.8; Dragons 22.2
2017 points conceded per game: Sharks 17; Dragons 18.8
Televised: Nine, Fox League, NRL Live Pass