Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Sydney Roosters
Southern Cross Group Stadium
This Saturday night blockbuster is the only game of the round to pit two current top four teams against each other and we should learn plenty about exactly where the Roosters and Sharks are both at just two weeks out from the finals.
Both sides come into this one with winning form, but in each case it is largely unconvincing winning form.
Cronulla did enough to take care of a badly understrength Cowboys outfit in Townsville last week, and that came off the back of a pair of big losses to Brisbane and Canberra. The Roosters just got home late against a spirited Wests Tigers last week but, like Cronulla, they had lost two straight prior to that.
In their case, a thrilling 16-13 loss in Melbourne was actually an impressive performance against the ladder-leaders, though their second-half collapse against Manly two weeks ago was less than inspiring.
Whoever wins on Saturday, and particularly if they can do so in convincing fashion, can really make a statement heading into September.
Both teams are unchanged after their last-start wins.
Why Sharks can win: You really just need to cast your mind back eight weeks.
In Round 17 up in Gosford, Cronulla put in one of the best – if not the best – team performances by any NRL club this year, dismantling the Roosters 44-12.
The Roosters were lucky to only be down three tries to two at half-time after Cronulla dominated the opening 40 but the premiers streaked away in the second and the Tricolours had no answer as the Sharks piled on four tries to none.
They outrun Trent Robinson's men by more than 600 metres, held 60 per cent of the ball, completed at 90 per cent and their forwards ran riot through the middle.
If the Sharks can channel anything of what they produced that Saturday afternoon the Roosters are in for a torrid time.
Why Roosters can win: They're sitting in third for a reason and have beaten everyone in the top eight this year other than Cronulla and Manly.
Their two halves have combined for 33 line break assists (Keary is co-competition leader with 19) – no other halves pairing comes close.
They also have 26 combined try assists which is as good as any halves pairing in the NRL.
And as they showed last week against the Tigers, even when they're not at their best they're prepared to stay in games.
They will look to inspirational skipper Boyd Cordner (who missed the previous loss to Cronulla through injury) to again lead the way after his 179 metres last week – the most of any forward on the park.
KEY MATCH-UP | JAMES MALONEY V MITCHELL PEARCE
17 | GAMES PLAYED | 19
10 | TRY ASSISTS | 12
9 | LINE BREAK ASSISTS | 14
89 | TOTAL KICKS | 241
7 | LINE BREAKS | 7
The history: Played 92; Sharks 34; Roosters 56; Drawn 2.
The Sharks are on a six-game winning run against the Tricolours, who have only won once in the Shire since 2009 (with five losses and a draw in that time).
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin; Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall; Touch judges: Nick Beashel and Jeff Younis; Review Official: Bryan Norrie; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox League – Live from 7.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: A very tough one to tip; Cronulla have enjoyed facing the Roosters in recent times but haven't been at their best at home (five wins six losses) in 2017.
Flip a coin or go with your heart but we'll take the Roosters in a two-point nail-biter.
This article first appeared on NRL.COM