Round 10: Raiders v Sharks preview
After poor starts to 2018, two in-form sides look to continue their resurgence on Sunday afternoon
The Canberra Raiders have overcome a terrible start to quickly put themselves back into finals contention. Ricky Stuart's men lost four-straight games to open their 2018 campaign and many were left questioning whether he was the right man to lead them to a premiership after the disappointment of the year prior. Fortunately, the team swiftly turned it around and have won four of their past five games. Last week the Raiders claimed a comfortable 32-18 win over the Titans and they now sit just one win outside of the Top Eight. Despite their recent form, Canberra still have plenty of improvement as evidenced in their 42-22 loss to the Rabbitohs a fortnight ago. In team news, Shannon Boyd (100th NRL Game) starts in place of Junior Paulo (foot) with Charlie Gubb joining the bench.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have also put a slow start to 2018 behind them as they search for their fourth-straight win on Sunday afternoon. Coach Shane Flanagan, however, would not have been impressed with their last-start victory against Parramatta. Cronulla were in complete control of the contest, leading 22-4 with just over six minutes remaining before three late tries saw them hold on to claim a two-point win. Much of Cronulla's success in recent years has been built off their resolute defence yet that suddenly went missing in the final stanza of Saturday night's game and Flanagan will be desperate to rediscover it in time for their trip to Canberra. There are plenty of changes for Flanagan's men, the biggest being the return of Paul Gallen (knee) at lock, pushing Joseph Paulo back to the bench. Jayson Bukuya (virus) also returns and replaces Wade Graham who has been struck down by a hamstring injury. Finally, Jack Williams has been named to make his debut off the bench in place of Kurt Dillon, who has been dropped to the reserves.
The Raiders beat the Sharks 30-12 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in Round 22 last year. Despite this, Cronulla have won four of their past six meetings with the Green Machine.
Who to watch: While he will probably miss selection this year, Canberra winger Nick Cotric has put his hand up for an unlikely Origin berth in 2018 and only boosted his chances with his performance against the Titans last week. Cotric managed 106 running metres, a try, two line-breaks and 10 tackle-busts in a powerful display. Cronulla have one of the strongest forward packs in the competition yet Canberra have the added bonus of Nick Cotric who is pivotal to gaining early metres and providing size and skill out wide.
For the Sharks, Valentine Holmes made the most of his time at fullback in last week's win over Parramatta. Many have doubted Holmes' abilities in the No. 1 jersey yet he was highly impressive in the position last week, running for 133 metres, busting four tackles and setting up a try. Canberra seemed to have rediscovered their mojo in attack in recent weeks and Holmes shapes as a key offensive weapon for Cronulla on Sunday afternoon.
My tip: The Sharks are one of the most frustrating teams to play in the competition given their stubbornness in defence. If they can maintain this quality against the Raiders on Sunday afternoon they should claim their fourth-straight victory. Sharks by eight.