Sharks v Raiders preview - 2017 Round 22

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Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Canberra Raiders Saturday 7:30pm at Southern Cross Group Stadium

Sitting comfortably in third spot, and looking to maintain their position in the top four, you could be forgiven for thinking the Sharks will have no problems taking away the two points this weekend.

That is, of course, until you take into account the desperate position the Raiders find themselves in leading into this clash.

Underperforming heavily so far in 2017, it really is time for the Canberra side to take their season into their own hands. Sitting in the unenviable position of four points outside the top eight, a loss would see the men in green lose touch with the top sides. A win, however, would keep their finals hopes alive - especially considering the Dragons' loss on Friday night.

Both sides come into this game as last start winners - the Sharks taking down the Warriors at home, and the Raiders outplaying a rough Rabbitohs outfit. The confidence that the Raiders gain out of that win, plus the boost from the return of Josh Papalii and Jordan Rapana might be enough to see them home. Michael Oldfield and Jeff Lima drop out of the side, with Joe Tapine returning to the interchange bench.

Sure, the Raiders can score points, but against the best defensive team in the competition they'll need to be at their very best. Papalii and Rapana's return from suspension will help their attack. So far in 2017 both have averaged around 150 metres per game, with Rapana also having bagged a dozen tries.

The Sharks aren't without a boost of their own, with Jack Bird named in the side following his withdrawal from the match last weekend. After some concern over his concussion, five-eighth Nu Brown will play, filling the void left by the injured James Maloney.

Last meeting: Round 2 2017 - Raiders 16 Sharks 42

What to watch: The battle of the forwards should be interesting in this one. Against the Warriors last week only one Sharks' forward managed to break the 100m benchmark, that being Paul Gallen with 142 metres, although his side was never really troubled by the Warriors. The Raiders, on the other hand, made metres almost at will against the big Rabbitohs pack, even in the absense of Papalii. Junior Paulo, Shannon Boyd, Joe Tapine and Dave Taylor all broke 100 metres, with the forwards also being responsible for two of their sides' try assists.

With Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin in their best form of the season, Gallen and his men will have a job on their hands to prevent the Raiders' forwards from giving their halves open space. Gallen does love a challenge though, and the experienced Lewis, Graham, Prior, and the uncharacteristically quiet Fifita will be looking to set a platform for their makeshift halves combination as well.

The favourite: The Sharks are heavy favourites in this one, and it's unsurprising given the Raiders' struggles so far this season. But don't discount the Raiders. Paying more than $2.50, they're a great value bet. The Sharks have won only half of their games at home so far this year, but the Raiders aren't exactly stellar on the road either, winning only 3 of 9 away from Canberra.

My tip: With desperation on their side, and the return of Josh Papalii, the Raiders should be able to do enough to take the win. I'm not confident though. Raiders by 2.

1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. Fa'amanu Brown 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. James Segeyaro 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 18. Adam Clydsdale

1. Jack Wighton 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Junior Paulo 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Shannon Boyd 11. Josh Papalii 12. Elliot Whitehead 17. Joseph Tapine 14. Kurt Baptiste 15. Clay Priest 16. Dave Taylor 13. Luke Bateman

Referees: Gerard Sutton, Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Jeff Younis; Video Referees: Luke Patten, Bernard Sutton;

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