Sharks v Eels preview

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Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Parramatta Eels Saturday 7:30pm at Southern Cross Group Stadium

Sharks and Eels both look for an unlikely third-straight victory

The Cronulla Sharks find themselves sitting just outside of the Top Eight after claiming back-to-back wins over the Panthers and Titans in the past fortnight. Shane Flanagan's men have overcome injuries to key men up front and this week are boosted by the return of edge forward Wade Graham. However, they will have to still contend with a cruel blow to their backline with in-form fullback Josh Dugan sidelined for 4-6 weeks with a footy injury. Valentine Holmes replaces him at the back with Sosaia Feki recalled on the wing. Coach Shane Flanagan will be hoping that his side can improve in attack on Saturday night as they currently rank third last in the competition in that area. Fortunately, their opposition this week has scored the least points this year. The Sharks have a strong recent record against Parramatta having won four straight against the Blue and Gold army.

Meanwhile, after a diabolical 0-6 start to their 2018 campaign, Brad Arthur's Eels have rallied to also win two-straight against the under-siege Sea Eagles and much-improved Tigers. Last week's win would have been particularly pleasing for coach Arthur as his side fell behind on the scoreboard on numerous occasions but continued to fight back before holding on for a tight 24-22 win. The victory means that the Eels sit just four points outside the Top Eight and can finally climb away from last spot on the ladder this week. While Parramatta have typically struggled in attack this year, their last two performances have obviously seen them improve dramatically in this area but they face a stern test this week against a resolute Sharks team.

Last meeting: Round 3 2018 - Eels 4 Sharks 14

Who to watch: For the Sharks, all eyes will be on Valentine Holmes as he attempts to make the most of the opportunity he has been given in his preferred jersey. Dugan has been pivotal for Cronulla since moving to the No. 1 jersey and his performance against Penrith in Round 7 proved just how valuable he was to the men from the Shire. The former Dragon finished that game with 178 running metres, a try-assist, six tackle busts and one line-break. His explosive running game was particularly effective in getting Cronulla's sets off to a great start. The challenge is now set for Holmes, who hasn't exactly proved himself as an elite fullback, to make the position his own.

Meanwhile, for Parramatta, fullback Clint Gutherson has been a major reason for the form reversal. ‘The Guth' was absent for the first five rounds of the competition after recovering from a season-ending ACL injury suffered last year. However, he has sparked Parramatta's spluttering attack since returning and while not at his best yet, he will continue to improve with every game he plays.

The favourite: Cronulla are backed in to halt Parramatta's resurgence.

My tip: The Sharks are the sixth-best defensive side in the competition and they should be able to grind their way to victory on Saturday night. Cronulla by 6..

1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Edrick Lee 6. Matt Moylan 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Wade Graham 13. Joseph Paulo 15. James Segeyaro 16. Ava Seumanufagai 17. Scott Sorensen 18. Kurt Dillon

1. Clint Gutherson 2. Bevan French 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. George Jennings 6. Corey Norman 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Kaysa Pritchard 10. Suaia Matagi 11. Manu Ma'u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Peni Terepo 14. Will Smith 15. Kenny Edwards 16. David Gower 17. Tim Mannah

Referees: Adam Gee, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis, Rohan Best; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;

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