Canberra and Cronulla lock horns on Saturday evening in what is one of the matches of the round!
Both these sides know how to get to the line and have proved that in 2016. Canberra will be delighted to have Jack Wighton at their disposal after he beat a shoulder charge case at the judiciary. Canberra have been red hot lately and it doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon. They way they dismantled the Wests Tigers last week was like a surgeon with a knife- cool, calm and precise. With weapons all over the park including the in form duo of Jordan Rapana and Joey Leilua it seems that regardless of the result on Saturday the Raiders will be posting a lot of points.
The Sharks the last 6 weeks have been reminiscent of me as a young child when riding a slippery dip. Scary when you’re up the top as you’re not really sure how you got there and then not very enjoyable on the way down. They want to be premiers and despite a lean few weeks I expect to see the Sharks of old fired up and ready for a war on Saturday night. They created chances galore against Melbourne last week (9 line breaks) but some last ditch defence stopped them at every turn. Canberra’s defence has improved ten fold but it’s not Melbourne esque and the Sharks will fancy their chances to find holes around the edges and will send a lot of traffic towards Jarrod Croker in at attempt to rattle the Raiders captain.
This is going to be a real slobber knocker (in the words of good Ol Jim Ross) and you’d be crazy to miss it.
Last meeting: Round 22 2016 – Sharks 14 Raiders 30
Last finals meeting: Elimination Final, 2012 – Raiders 34 Sharks 16
The Raiders impressive run got a real shot in the arm with their thumping win over the Sharks just 5 weeks ago. That loss will be firmly in the mind of the visitors who were torn to shreds through the ruck by Josh Hodgson. The last 13 meetings between these two clubs had been extremely close. Canberra have won 7 to Cronulla’s 6 wins. They have met in week one of the finals once before in 2012 when the Raiders ended the Sharks season 34-16 at GIO Stadium. The Sharks have a 11-14 record at GIO Stadium and will be hoping to avenge past, painful defeats at the ground. Canberra need just one try to reach 1500 tries at GIO Stadium.
Who to watch: Josh Hodgson destroyed the Sharks in their round 22 clash with 125 run metres, two try assists, six tackle busts, 2 offloads, one line break and one line break assist. He was unstoppable and dominated the ruck and the battle with Michael Ennis. Ennis won’t want to let that happen again and there will be niggle for sure. Hodgson has had a phenomenal season and their attack comes from him and his strong metres as well as his passing out of dummy half. If the Canberra number 9 has an above average game then you can almost guarantee a Canberra win.
The Sharks have been fading of late but the man that can spark them back into life is Ben Barba. Barba has been a bit flat in recent weeks but has proven this year that he is still one of the premier fullbacks in the NRL. His speed, vision and toughness can trouble the best of defenses and if the Sharks are to have success he needs to take on the line more (particularly from kick returns) and chime into the attacking line with his silky ball skills and great passing for his outside men. Barba has a chance to leave his stamp all over this game and get the Sharks one win away from the grand final, he needs to stand up and be counted cos everyone in the Shire is counting on Benny B!
The favourite: Canberra have been red hot lately and being at home makes them even more short price favourites.
My tip: Upset alert! Everything seems to be going right for the Raiders and they have been unstoppable. However I believe we haven’t seen the best of the Sharks this year and their gritty and grinding style of football could upset the rhythm of the green machine. Paul Gallenwill lead from the front and if the Sharks draw first blood then they won’t give it up. Cracking game and a huge semi final atmosphere will make it even better. Sharks by 6.
Outcome: The winner of the Second Qualifying Final will progress through to the Preliminary Final. The loser will host the winner of the Penrith v Canterbury match.