KEY MATCH-UPS | Sharks v Bulldogs
The Bulldogs return to their spiritual home for the second time in the space of a month and will be met by a Sharks side looking to continue their recent run of good form.
In what looms a hotly contested match between the 6th and 8th placed sides, we look at the key match-ups that stand to sway the outcome at the end of the eighty minutes.
THE WINGERS | Valentine Holmes v Curtis Rona
Valentine Holmes’ field goal sealed a dramatic win for the Sharks against the Raiders in Round 19, in a match where he crossed for a try before having another turned down by the video referee.
Holmes will play what will be his first NRL match as a 20-year-old this week after he celebrates his birthday on Friday. While he remains the youngest member in the Cronulla squad, he too is a key figure in a clash where he will oppose arguably the best winger of the season to date.
Curtis Rona of the Bulldogs has crossed for 17 four-pointers from as many appearances this season to front the running as the year’s most prolific try scorer. Rona has also made 17 linebreaks this season, in showing that when given time and space rarely does he not capitalise on the opportunity of posting points.
Marking up on each other this week, the tries each men stop could prove just as, if not more decisive, than those they will look to run in.
THE HOOKERS | Michael Ennis v Michael Lichaa
Michael Ennis and Michael Lichaa last squared off in Round 2 last season, when each man wore the colours of their-now opposite number. Ennis made the move to the Shire, as did Lichaa to Belmore in 2015, and since both men have provided an added spark and dimension to their respective teams.
Ennis leads Cronulla’s ranks for try assists (12) and linebreak assists (10), in also proving a handy foil to Robson and Bird’s kicking games, in averaging the second most kick metres.
Lichaa meanwhile has shown he does not shy away from the tough stuff in the middle of the park, in leading the Dogs’ average tackles with 40 per game. In a battle of experience and youth, Ennis says he does not have a point to prove against his old side but that he would love nothing more than to seal a win at Belmore on Sunday.
THE BACK-ROWERS | Luke Lewis v Josh Jackson
A State Of Origin regular for near on a decade, Luke Lewis did not find himself in Blues jumper in 2015, arguably replaced by the Bulldogs’ emerging back-rower Josh Jackson. But not to be deterred by missing out on playing representative football, Lewis’ form for the Sharks has rivalled that of his career best.
Having crossed for nine tries this season, the 31-year-old has also shown that he is still an imposing figure without the football in leading the Sharks for one-on-one tackles (57). The NRL leader in the one-on-one statistic, however, is no other than Josh Jackson himself.
Yet to taste defeat against the Sharks, Jackson will be hopeful of maintaining that record come Sunday. And while State of Origin for 2015 is done and dusted, be sure that Lewis will be out to put in yet another big effort against the man who took his rep jersey this season.