Raiders v Sharks: Gallen joins Bukuya on sidelines
After looking like early candidates to be the season's standout underachievers, the Raiders are suddenly on a mini-roll with four wins from their past five matches and confidence is growing.
They're still prone to occasionally dropping off during games, especially defensively, but the Green Machine aren't beating themselves like they did throughout the first month of the season.
Boasting one of the competition's most formidable forward packs and a backline with loads of firepower, the Raiders are a top eight team if they want to be. Beating the Sharks would further bolster their confidence.
Cronulla were hot and cold over the first six weeks of 2018 as they battled injuries to key players. They are still without veteran warhorses Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis, and now Wade Graham might need a couple of weeks rest again after re-injuring his hamstring.
But the Sharks have quietly crept into eighth spot with three straight wins and coach Shane Flanagan has typically squeezed the most out of his team to keep them in the premiership race.
A Sunday afternoon road win over the Raiders at a chilly Canberra could provide all the impetus Cronulla need to start a serious push for a top four spot.
The Sharks have had their injuries in recent weeks but always seem capable of beating anyone, due largely to the presence of Matt Moylan. Chad Townsend, Andrew Fifta and others have stepped up over the past month, but they aren't the game-changing type of player the multi-skilled Moylan is. The former Panther has another test on his hands on Sunday up against an in-form Blake Austin. The Sharks need their star player at his best.
Match: Raiders vs Sharks
Venue: GIO Stadium
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- Fox League
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For the Raiders to win: Confidence is increasing after a horror start to the season and last week's win should guarantee another strong crowd turnout. The Raiders showed they can win gritty with the recent defeat of the Cowboys, but they don't want to get caught up in a Sharks-style arm wrestle. Shannon Boyd and the rest of the pack have to do their best to minimise Andrew Fifita's impact up front.
For the Sharks to win: Fifita has taken it upon himself to lead the Sharks forwards in the absence of Gallen and Lewis and been a rock in the middle for his team. If he and Matt Prior can give the Sharks plenty of go-forward against the big Raiders pack, Moylan and Valentine Holmes can cause loads of damage out the back.
Raiders stat attack: Prop Shannon Boyd will play his 100th game on Sunday. Winger Jordan Rapana has scored eight tries in his past seven games against Cronulla. The Raiders are equal leaders with Souths in line breaks (46).
Sharks stat attack: Canberra's home turf has been a happy hunting ground for the Sharks. They have won their past five games at GIO Stadium, while Fifita has been triumphant on nine of the 10 occasions he has played in the nation's capital.
And another thing: Cronulla co-captain Paul Gallen will turn 37 in August, but he's not the all-time oldest player. That title goes to former North Sydney Bear Billy Wilson, who was 40 when he played in the 1967 NSWRL season.
Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sharks, Sunday 4.10pm at GIO Stadium
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Nick Cotric, 3 Jarrod Croker (c), 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Iosia Soliola, 9 Siliva Havili, 10 Shannon Boyd, 11 Joseph Tapine, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 13 Josh Papalii
Interchange: 14 Ata Hingano, 15 Luke Bateman, 16 Charlie Gubb, 17 Dunamis Lui
The Raiders have had a smooth build-up are almost certain to take the field as named. Shannon Boyd starts at prop for Junior Paulo (foot, eight weeks) and Charlie Gubb joins the bench. Craig Garvey and Jack Murchie were omitted from the squad on Saturday afternoon. Canberra will be 1-17 after Liam Knight and Michael Oldfield were dropped an hour before kick-off.
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 (c), 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Kurt Capewell, 14 Joseph Paulo, 16 Avagalu Seumanufagai
Interchange: 15 James Segeyaro, 17 Jack Williams, 18 Kurt Dillion, 19 Braden Uele
Jayson Bukuya (virus) is out, replaced in the back row by Joseph Paulo. Paul Gallen (knee) has also been ruled out, delaying his comeback from a knee injury. Jack Williams has been named to debut on the bench. Cowboys recruit Braden Uele will play his first NRL game for Cronulla. Kyle Flanagan was omitted 24 hours before kick-off, Briton Nikora missed the final cut.
Head-to-head: Played 69; Sharks 37 wins, Raiders 32 wins
Matches at venue: Played 27; Raiders 14 wins, Sharks 13 wins
2017 results: Sharks won 42-16 at GIO Stadium in round 2; Raiders won 30-12 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round 22
Points per game: Raiders 23; Sharks 16.2
Points conceded per game: Raider 21.3; Sharks 18.6
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: The Raiders were good last weekend against the Titans. Aiden Sezer and Blake Austin are getting back to their best, while their forwards have been leading from the front with the likes of Josh Papalli and Shannon Boyd making their presence felt. The Sharks continue to show their resilience and their love for a grind after registering their third straight win last weekend. They may be down on players, but the performance of Andrew Fifita over the past three weeks has been outstanding. He has stood up and carried this Sharks side to victory. A road trip to Canberra is never fun, but I think the Sharks can make it win No.6 for the season in the Nation's capital. Tip: Sharks by 4