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It has been a torrid week off the field for the Cronulla Sharks, but they still come into the first game back from shutdown as favourites over the Wests Tigers. Join The Roar for live scores and coverage from 5:30pm (AEST).
Just when it looked like we were going to get to the season relaunch without incident, Bronson Xerri was pinged with a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.
While it will impact the club off the field, if they can manage to keep morale high in the dressing room, it probably won’t make that much of an impact on the field.
Josh Dugan comes straight in to take his spot, and while he doesn’t have the same speed and acceleration, he makes up for it in explosiveness and an ability to make things happen.
The Sharks are still without Matt Moylan, but they weren’t awful in the first two rounds despite two tough losses to the Storm and Rabbitohs by a combined six points.
Their attack will need some work, but they have a halves combination that should click if they are able to play consistent footy without injuries.
The Tigers, on the other hand, look a bits-and-pieces footy side, and while they beat the Dragons in Round 1, it showed in Round 2 when they were rolled by the Knights, letting in 42 points.
Their attack hasn’t been bad thus far, but it’s likely to be defence and fitness that wins games in the first few weeks back. Michael Maguire is a taskmaster, so the Tigers should be fit, relatively speaking, but their defensive effort in Round 2 leaves a lot to be desired.
Coming up against a side who are strong through the middle third with the likes of Andrew Fifita and Jack Williams, Wests will need to toughen up if they are to stand a chance.
Not only will Thomas Mikaele and Josh Aloiai need to play above and beyond what they have previously, but Luke Brooks’ kicking game needs to be spot on. It goes without saying the Tigers will find themselves in tough positions at points, so if he isn’t calm, composed and picking the right options, the Sharks could rack up quite the score.
The Sharks are stronger almost all the way across the park. Even with their week off the field, it’s hard to see them not winning this one.
Sharks by 12.
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Kick-off: 5:30pm (AEST)
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta
TV: Live, Fox League 502
Online: Live, Foxtel Now, Kayo Sports, 9Now, NRL Digital Pass,
Betting: Sharks $1.76, Tigers $2.07
Overall record: Played 31, Tigers 17, Sharks 13, drawn 1
Referee: Adam Gee
1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Jack Williams
Interchange: 14. Connor Tracey 15. Braden Hamlin-Uele 16. Toby Rudolf 17. Scott Sorensen 18. Billy Magoulias 19. Matt Moylan 20. Royce Hunt 21. Siosifa Talakai
1. Adam Doueihi 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Joseph Leilua 4. Moses Mbye 5. Robert Jennings 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Harry Grant 10. Thomas Mikaele 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Alex Twal
Interchange: 14. Oliver Clark 15. Billy Walters 16. Chris Lawrence 17. Alex Seyfarth 18. Josh Reynolds 19. Matt Eisenhuth 20. Zane Musgrove 21. Michael Chee-Kam