KEY MATCH UPS | Sharks v Raiders
The Sharks travel to the ACT to face an in form Raiders team buoyed by the good form of five-eighth Blake Austin. But in a match so crucial to each side's chances of playing finals football, the Cronulla side can not - and will not - focus its attentions solely on the work of the Canberra number 6.
THE GOAL-KICKERS | Michael Gordon v Jarrod Croker
In a match that has a huge influence on the chances of each side come the end of the regular season, points will be at a premium and turning four into six could prove the difference at the end of the 80 minutes in this one.
Returning to his custodian role in recent times, Michael Gordon has been at his ever-reliable best behind the Sharks front line. Not flustered by the opposition high ball, ‘Flash’ remains a key figure in the Sharks defence, while his goal kicking has proved the difference on occasions already witnessed in 2015.
Having crossed for one try this season, Gordon has converted 41 times from 54 attempts (75.93%), albeit down on his career average of 82%. With Raiders centre Croker leading the NRL for points scored (154 – 7 tries, 63 goals) and kicking at 85%, Gordon must again be on-song with the boot come Saturday afternoon.
THE FIVE-EIGHTHS | Jack Bird v Blake Austin
In a match-up that has fans of both sides salivating, arguably the two hottest talents of the 2015 season are set to square off in a battle of the number sixes.
A former Panthers and Tigers utility back, Raiders sensation Blake Austin has found a home in the six jersey since heading to Canberra, with his form said to have him in contention for this year’s Dally M Medal.
Scoring 13 tries already in 2015, Austin is well in contention to shatter the record for most four-pointers by a five-eighth in a season (18), while leading the side for line-breaks (14) and tackle busts (52). Not only influential with the ball in hand, Austin leads the NRL for 1-on-1 tackles with 63.
Meanwhile, Sharks young-gun Jack Bird continues to capture the imaginations of Rugby League fans with his rapid rise in the top grade. Crossing for six tries and leading the side for line-break assists (10), Bird has shown he is more than up to the challenge in defence too, in averaging over 22 tackles a game in his last three outings.
Expect each side to be running plenty of traffic at these men. While Austin and Bird are quickly becoming known for their attacking threats, each could earn their respective side two points for their good work done without the Steeden on Saturday.
THE ENFORCERS | Paul Gallen v Josh Papalii
Paul Gallen will trot out on to the GIO Stadium for his 250th appearance in the top grade and will meet the personal challenge of Raiders hard-man, Josh Papalii.
In a match-up with a sour history stemming back to the elimination final of 2012, Gallen will be out to cap his milestone match with a win over the Maroons representative in front of the Canberra crowd.
In true Gallen style, the 33-year-old Club Captain’s form has not wavered in 2015, averaging in excess of 200 metres a match and 30 tackles to boot. The ever-consistent figure in the Sharks number ‘13’ kit has also posed a threat to opposition defences, in creating second phase play on 21 occasions in 2015.
Papalii perhaps somewhat surprisingly, remains the Raiders second-most prolific try scorer in 2015 (with 7) behind only Blake Austin. The Canberra back-rower's work in crossing the stripe has not detracted from his efforts without the ball, in averaging 28 tackles a game this season. Expect Papalii to go looking for the Sharks skipper on Saturday afternoon.