Round 7: Cronulla v Canterbury preview
Cronulla meet Canterbury-Bankstown in the graveyard 5:30pm Saturday slot in what is a pivotal matchup for both teams.
The Sharks coming off the back of a loss (their 2nd in a row), coupled with a savage coach back-stabbing (time will tell if it's the right call), and the Bulldogs still searching for that elusive win to kick-start their 2021 season.
Cronulla lost narrowly to Newcastle, in a match they easily could have snatched, however the loss has them sitting on 2 wins after six games. Canterbury were their own worst enemy up in Townsville, deciding to put in an insipid first 55 minutes against a bang-average Cowboys side, before deciding to show up and display what they are capable of only after going down to 12 men.
In team news, Cronulla welcome back Josh Dugan and Shaun Johnson, with new recruit Will Chambers popping up in the extended squad. Aiden Tolman is out of the side, due to suspension, which should open up their 4th tackle options. Wade Graham and Ronaldo Mulitalo are still missing from the side.
For the Bulldogs, a club debut for Ava Seumanufagai, who takes his place on an interesting looking bench, which also includes the returning Brad Deitz and Matt Doorey, along with Renouf Atoni who has dropped out of the starting 13. Chris Smith starts for the first time in 2021, as Corey Waddell moves to lock. Nick Cotric plays his 100th NRL game.
There's a whole deleted paragraph editorialising about the continued selection of Dylan Napa and Will Hopoate, however this Bulldogs tragic will keep it to himself, and will tweet his frustration instead (follow me on @amul82). Stay positive, Emile. Trust the process.
The last 2 matchups between these sides has ended in a two point margin, Cronulla winning the 2020 game, and Canterbury the 2019 clash. With the self-inflicted coaching fuss at the Sharks, coupled with a desperate Bulldogs side, who is starting to show point scoring ability, I expect this to be another close game.
Last meeting: Round 6 2020 - Sharks 20 Bulldogs 18
Who to watch: For Cronulla, I'll be keeping an eye on Josh Dugan. If he is allowed to dictate terms, Canterbury may be in some strife. The return of Shaun Johnson also will be interesting to see against the Bulldogs' young halves.
Canterbury? It's the halves. Averillo and Flanagan. Jake Averillo is being asked to do a key job, with not much talent around him, and is performing admirably. This writer would love to see him get more of the ball on the last tackle, and to take over some of the load from Kyle Flanagan.
The favourite: Cronulla are clear cut, comfortable favourites, and that's quite frankly very understandable.
My tip: This defies all logic, however I think my Dogs may finally break through here, if only to stop the brainless takes from the mainstream media about not winning a game in 2021. Canterbury-Bankstown by 2.