KEY MATCHUPS | Sharks v Dragons
By Ryan Selvage
The Wingers – Valentine Holmes vs Eto Nabuli
Valentine Holmes sealed a last-gasp, Golden Point victory for the Sharks with an overtime field goal in Round 10 against the Titans.
The 19-year-old showed skill and composure well beyond his years, as his field goal snatched the two competition points away from a plucky Titans side.
Not one to be overawed by the sense of occasion, Holmes has shown time and time again in 2015 that he is up to the challenge and pressures of top-flight football.
He will face another tough task this week though as he fronts Eto Nabuli – the 197cm, 108kg, Dragons Fijian flyer.
Holmes will have to be good in the air, as the Dragons’ halves will no doubt look to pepper the Sharks’ right side defence with cross-field bombs.
Nabuli has shown he can leap – at both ends of the fields – nabbing three tries in 2015 and ranking first in the Dragons stats for bombs defused.
The Hookers – Michael Ennis vs Mitch Rein
The battle of the number nines looks crucial in what looms as a tough, dogged Derby match and we should expect a strong showing from both hookers in this match.
Ennis and Rein are both wily, gritty characters who love getting their hands dirty for the cause – and be assured that both men won’t be backing down from the challenge come Sunday afternoon.
Assuming the role of Sharks co-captain in Paul Gallen’s absence, Ennis has proved a key cog in the side’s attack having laid on 7 tries for his outside men.
Ennis leads that stat for the Sharks, while also ranking second for line break assists (4) and average kick metres (157m).
Rein meanwhile has been up to his usual creative tricks, and his form in the first half of the season was enough to earn a call up for the Country Origin side.
An injury to Robbie Farah adds some spice to this contest, with Ennis and Rein appearing to be in a two-way battle to replace the Tigers rake in the NSW side for Origin game two.
The Locks – Luke Lewis vs Trent Merrin
Trent Merrin is likely to return from the Origin arena fit and ready to take his place in the Dragons starting side on Sunday.
The Blues interchange forward will be heavily marked by the Sharks middle-third defenders and the Cronulla side will look to shut down the run metres and offloads that Merrin provides for his team.
He squares off against in-form Sharks lock forward Luke Lewis, whose form almost warranted selection in the NSW side alongside the Dragons’ number 13.
While Lewis was not chosen to represent the State, his performances at club level have not wavered in 2015.
Lewis has scored five tries from his eight appearances this season – second only to Valentine Holmes who leads the club tally with seven.
If the 31-year-old veteran crosses the stripe on Sunday, it will mark his 100th career four-pointer.
Merrin and Lewis stand to have a huge influence on the end result here, and both men will be out to ensure their side walks away with the bragging rights at the full-time siren.