Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Where: Southern Cross Group Stadium, Cronulla
When: Sunday July 25, 4pm
As Sydney shivers through a colder-than-normal winter, the battle between two proud surf spots shifts from the beach to the footy field with the Sharks playing host to the Sea Eagles.
This shapes as one of the games of the weekend with the sides separated by just two competition points after 15 rounds and the winner is likely to finish the financial year in the Telstra Premiership top four.
The Sharks have won five of their past six matches, but it'd be generous to say they are in red-hot form given all of those have been decided by six points or less.
Their northern rivals have also notched five wins from their last six starts and will be fresh after last week's bye.
The Sharks welcome back their State of Origin quintet, with last week's heroes Kurt Capewell and Daniel Mortimer also retained on the bench.
The Sea Eagles have made one minor change to their bench with Darcy Lussick replacing Jackson Hastings in a clear sign that they want to take the fight to Cronulla's big boppers.
Why the Sharks can win: It's no secret the Sharks are slow out of the blocks, especially at home. Their last five wins have seen them overturn half-time deficits, with Shane Flanagan's men quickly becoming second-half specialists. The stats suggest Manly will skip out to an early lead, but if the Sharks can stay in touch with 20 minutes to go, they should find a way to win. Cronulla have scored 28 second-half tries and conceded just 11. Conversely, Manly has scored 21 four-pointers in the second stanza but they've also allowed 19, including 12 in the final 20 minutes.
Why the Sea Eagles can win: We've all heard about Cronulla's woes with ball in hand, but one stat that's gone largely unnoticed is just how disciplined the Sea Eagles have been in 2017. Trent Barrett's men have produced the fewest errors (122) this year, while the Sharks are the second-worst offenders (164). The last thing Cronulla will want to do is gift the competition's fifth-best attacking side multiple opportunities in 'good ball' areas.
The history: Played 88; Sharks 24; Sea Eagles 62; Drawn 2. This has been one of the most one-sided rivalries in the modern era with Manly winning 13 of the past 15 clashes between the two sides. Last year's ledger was split with both teams claiming narrow victories at home; another win on Sunday will give Cronulla back-to-back wins over the Sea Eagles for the first time since 2004.
What are the odds: Punters aren't convinced which way to go here. The early money was for Cronulla, but the money has come for Manly since the Sharks' lucky escape against Wests Tigers. Neither side has been confidently backed to win 13-plus with Sportsbet, so we might be in for a tight one according to the money. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant referee: Chris Butler. Sideline officials: Rohan Best and Nick Beashel.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live coverage from 3:30pm. Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 4pm.
NRL.com predicts: A lot hinges on who backs up from Origin. If the likes of Andrew Fifita, Valentine Holmes and Wade Graham get through unscathed then the Sharks should start deserved favourites. However, if one or two of Cronulla's stars fail to back up then the soaring Sea Eagles suddenly look like a value tip. With all things being equal, expect the Sharks to claim another come-from-behind win, with James Maloney's boot proving the difference in the final five minutes. Sharks by 1.
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