Sharks v Eels: Graham and Feki back; Moeroa replaces T-Rex
Cronulla co-captain Wade Graham (hamstring injury) is expected back this week, though he was also scheduled to return last week against the Titans before deciding he wasn't quite right.
The Sharks can't welcome back Graham soon enough. They boosted their record to 4-4 with the 10-9 defeat of the Titans, but they did it the hard way and could use the extra dimension Graham brings in attack.
With veteran leaders Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis both absent with injuries, the Sharks have done well to tread water. And they certainly don't have the same issues as the Cowboys and Roosters.
The Eels may have all but ruined their finals chances with an 0-6 start to the season, but they seem to have rediscovered the confidence and chemistry which carried them to a top four finish last year and are aiming for their third straight win.
After losing at home to the Sharks in round three, Parra should be hungry to square the ledger.
Match: Sharks v Eels
Round 9 -
Venue: Southern Cross Group Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Parramatta Eels, 7.35pm Saturday at Southern Cross Group Stadium
Key match-up: Crucial as Mitch Moses is to the Eels' premiership aspirations, they are that much better as a team when Corey Norman brings his A-game. Norman has been getting back to his best form over the past two weeks and there isn’t too much he can’t do on a football field when he's on song. He is up against one of the most naturally talented players in the game in Matt Moylan and will need to stay focused for 80 minutes if the Eels are going to make it three wins on the trot.
For the Sharks to win: Few if any teams can out-wit the Sharks in a low-scoring grind, a fact they reminded us of with last week's narrow win in the wet. But we are a third of the way through the season and their offence needs to evolve if they are going to threaten teams like Melbourne and the Dragons.
For the Eels to win: Knowing how much Cronulla like to use their mobile forward pack to create space, Parra will have to work extra hard defensively to stifle the Sharks' go-forward.
Sharks stat attack: Andrew Fifita continues to lead the NRL in offloads (27) but also still tops the penalty count (14). The Sharks haven't been their usual resilient selves on their home ground, losing four of their past six.
Eels stat attack: Parra have lost their past four meetings with the Sharks and haven’t tasted victory on the Sharks’ home ground in four years. Ironically it has been a relatively happy hunting ground for Eels centre Michael Jennings, who has scored seven tries in his past eight games at Cronulla.
And another thing: On the same day the Sharks host the Eels, it will be 11 years to the day since Cronulla beat the Warriors 24-22 at Mt Smart Stadium for their first away win in almost 12 months. Four players were backing up that afternoon for their third game in six days.
Sharks: 1 Valentine Holmes, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Jesse Ramien, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Edrick Lee, 6 Matt Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Kurt Capewell, 12 Wade Graham (c), 13 Joseph Paulo
Interchange: 15 James Segeyaro, 16 Avagalu Seumanufagai, 17 Scott Sorensen, 18 Kurt Dillion
Jason Bukuya (virus) won't play against the Eels after he and Jack Williams were the last two players dropped from the squad an hour before kick-off. Val Holmes replaces Josh Dugan (foot, 4-6 weeks) at fullback with Sosaia Feki recalled on the wing. Wade Graham has been named to start (pending a fitness test on his injured hamstring) pushing Scott Sorensen to the bench and Kurt Dillon to the reserves.
Eels: 1 Clint Gutherson (c), 2 Bevan French, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Brad Takairangi, 5 George Jennings, 6 Corey Norman, 7 Mitchell Moses, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Kaysa Pritchard, 10 Suaia Matagi, 11 Manu Ma'u, 12 Tepai Moeroa, 13 Peni Terepo
Interchange: 14 Will Smith, 15 Kenny Edwards, 16 David Gower, 17 Tim Mannah (c)
The Eels will start 1-17 after Josh Hoffman and Marata Niukore were the last two players dropped from the squad an hour before kick-off. Tepai Moeroa returns in place of back-rower Tony Williams, who is gone for the year with an ACL injury. Nathan Brown has still not recovered from an ankle injury suffered in round five.
Head-to-head: Played 84; Sharks 45 wins, Eels 39 wins
Matches at venue: Played 36; Sharks 22 wins, Eels 14 wins
2017 result: Sharks won 20-6 at ANZ Stadium in round 4
Points per game: Sharks 15.5; Eels 14.3
Points conceded per game: Sharks 18.4; Eels 23
Televised: Live on Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: The Sharks once again showed their toughness on the weekend with a gutsy win on the Gold Coast. They are carrying plenty of injuries to key men, but their resilience and depth in their squad shows they are a genuine finals contender in 2018. The Eels registered their second win of the season and continue to improve after a poor start to the season. Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses have been impressive, but Clint Gutherson once again showed why he is so valuable to the blue and gold. They're on a roll and will be too good for the Sharks. TIP: Eels by 8