Sun 19 March 2017
Southern Cross Group Stadium - Crowd: 14247

Do the Dragons have enough fire to burn the premiers?

After a slow start in their first match as premiers, the Sharks displayed remarkable fluency to demolish Canberra last Saturday night. Seemingly destined to be a tight encounter, a second half attacking masterclass against the Raiders should send a deafening message to the other 15 NRL sides that while the Sharks may no longer be the hunter, they'll be anything but easy prey for their opponents. Returning to Cronulla to host their long-standing rivals, coach Shane Flanagan will be hoping for more of the same from his charges, as the Sharks look to make amends for their opening round loss to Brisbane. Retaining the same squad that performed so well in the ACT, don't be surprised to see Valentine Holmes included into the final 17-man side, while fellow premiership winner Gerard Beale is also in calculations for a late reprieve.

Forced to reassess their progress after an underwhelming effort against the Eels, the Dragons will be hoping the challenge of tackling the defending premiers brings out their best. After showing such promise in their season opening win over Penrith, a comprehensive 34-16 loss in Wollongong will give coach Paul McGregor plenty to ponder as he strives to take the Red V back to the finals. Keeping the faith with the same squad as last week, don't be surprised to see boom rookies Jai Field and Luciano Leilua take part in proceedings as the Dragons look to conjure the points required to keep pace with their opponents. Since Wayne Bennett's departure as coach, the Dragons have managed two wins at Southern Cross Group Stadium from five matches, while an upset victory at Kogarah in late 2016 should give the joint venture heading into Sunday's clash.

Last meeting: Round 23 2016 - Dragons 32 Sharks 18

Who to watch: With the drama of last year behind him, look for prop Andrew Fifita to continue his destructive form against the Dragons on Sunday. Averaging well over 150 metres in his first two matches this season, the 27-year-old representative has been among the most destructive forwards in the league for some time, with his leg speed and ferocious charges instrumental in the Sharks success. Forever endeared to the Cronulla faithful as a result of his performance in the 2016 Grand Final, Fifita will be out to demand selection in representative sides with performances that cannot go ignored.

Penning a new three-year deal in the past few days, Dragons lock Jack de Belin will be looking to celebrate in the best possible fashion on Sunday. Debuting back in 2011, the Cootamundra product has been a quiet achiever for the joint venture in recent seasons, however his hard work has not gone entirely unnoticed following selection in the Country starting pack last season. Having turned 27 this week, de Belin is set to enter his career prime as a forward with over 100 first grade appearances and should play an invaluable role in the Dragons success moving forward.

The favourite: Having post 42 points in Canberra last Saturday, the Sharks are well supported to achieve a similar result upon their return to Cronulla.

My tip: After disposing of the Raiders in one of the most dominant second halves seen in recent memory, it's near impossible to see anything other than a Cronulla win. Sharks by 14.

1. Jack Bird 19. Valentine Holmes 3. Kurt Capewell 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Edrick Lee 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 17. Joseph Paulo

1. Josh Dugan 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Josh McCrone 8. Russell Packer 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin 14. Tariq Sims 15. Leeson Ah Mau 16. Jacob Host 17. Kurt Mann

Referees: Ben Cummins, Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Ricky MacFarlane, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Video Referees: Ashley Klein, Ben Galea;