Vodafone Warriors v Sharks
Mount Smart Stadium
Friday, 8pm NZT, 6pm AEDT
As the Sharks circle the top four, D-Day looms for the Vodafone Warriors ahead of Friday night's clash in Auckland.
Sitting in 12th position, now six points outside of the top eight, the Vodafone Warriors will run out at Mount Smart Stadium with three straight losses behind them while their opponents this week come off a 26-12 victory over the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney has retained the same 17 players used in the 12-24 loss to the Cowboys in Townsville last week, and given they have won only once on the road all year, this home match shapes as a must win if they are to stay in contention for an improbable finals appearance.
The Sharkies have a forced change, with Blues standoff James Maloney out due to a hand injury and Fa'amanu Brown to wear the No 6 jersey in his place.
James Segeyaro starts at hooker, while coach Shane Flanagan welcomes Jack Bird back in the centres.
Why the Vodafone Warriors can win: They are a different beast at home in 2017, and currently possess the NRL's second-best home record with six wins from nine matches on New Zealand soil, while at Mount Smart Stadium they have lost just twice this season. At home the Vodafone Warriors average 20.5 points, compared to 18.4 on the road, and leak 20.1 on average at home, 4.3 less than their away average.
Why the Sharks can win: The Cronulla forwards have been dominating all year, and will be coming up against a pack which has struggled all season. The Sharks sit third in the competition in terms of metres gained this year, averaging 1644 per match, and last week they had big men Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen and Jayson Bukuya all run for over 95 metres individually.
The history: Played 36, Vodafone Warriors 16, Sharks 20. Cronulla has tasted victory in seven of its last nine meetings with the Vodafone Warriors, including the two most recent matches. But these have been very close encounters of late, with five of the last six decided by four points or less. The Sharkies have won in three of their last four visits to Mount Smart Stadium.
What are the odds: The Vodafone Warriors are $2.25 underdogs in the TAB's head-to-head betting while the Sharks are paying $1.60. CLICK HERE for all the odds.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Mason Lino; Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Bunty Afoa; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Sam Lisone, Ligi Sao, Chris Satae, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, James Bell, Jazz Tevaga, Isaiah Papali’i.
Cronulla Sharks | Valentine Holmes; Sosaia Feki, Jack Bird, Ricky Leutele, Gerard Beale; Fa’amanu Brown, Chad Townsend; Andrew Fifita, James Segeyaro, Matt Prior; Luke Lewis, Wade Graham; Paul Gallen (c). Interchange: Jayson Bukuya, Chris Heighington, Kurt Capewell, Jeremy Latimore, Joseph Paulo, Adam Clydsdale, Sam Tagtaese, Jesse Ramien.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline officials: Chris McMillan and Russell Turner. Review official: Bryan Norrie. Senior review official: Jared Maxwell.
Televised: SKY Sports 2 - Live coverage from 7.30pm. Fox Sports – Live coverage from 6pm.
NRL.com predicts: The Sharks have put themselves right in the mix as the home stretch approaches, while the Vodafone Warriors conversely look set for another slow and painful exit from finals contention. With their superior presence through the middle of the park, and the fact that the Vodafone Warriors are missing some key talent, Cronulla will have too much on Friday night. Sharks by 14.