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Andrew Pelechaty previews Canberra’s vital clash with Cronulla-Sutherland. This is what we have to look forward to.

FORM LINE

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

It was just as well that Cronulla sealed their finals spot in round 18, as their round 19 loss to the Sydney Roosters was disastrous. Not only did they lose 34-18 (tries to Siosifa Talakai, Ronaldo Mulitalo, and Braden Hamlin-Uele), but Shaun Johnson (who was a big part of the Sharks’ surge to the finals) injured his Achilles’ tendon, and is out for the rest of the season. How will the Sharks react to this? Will they rally? Or will they crumble?

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Canberra Raiders

Canberra overcame their customary slow start to beat the NZ Warriors 26-14. The game turned after half-an-hour: leading 14-6 (Jarrod Croker scoring Canberra’s first try), the Warriors were pressing Canberra’s line, looking for the killer blow, when Semi Valemei picked up a loose pass and ran 90 metres to score. Hudson Young scored just before halftime to give Canberra an unlikely (and probably undeserved) 16-14 lead. Canberra went on with it, with a second try for Valemi and one to Nick Cotric.

The big worry for Canberra: they’ve conceded the first try in their last eight games. Their round 11 win over Souths was the last time they’ve scored first. While they can get away with it against bottom eight sides, they’ll be punished in the finals if this trend continues.

With the Raiders’ top four hopes very slim, Ricky Stuart has rested a few stars for the finals, giving Adam Cook, Darby Medlyn, and Jarrett Subloo their debuts, and making Sam Williams captain. While it’s probably the right move with Canberra facing (at best) four weeks of sudden death footy, will it hurt them in the short term?

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SQUAD NEWS

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

1. Will Kennedy 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Mawene Hiroti 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Wade Graham 7. Connor Tracey 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 12. Siosifa Talakai 13. Toby Rudolf 14. Scott Sorensen 15. Jack Williams 16. Andrew Fifita 17. Teig Wilton 18. Billy Magoulias 19. Braydon Trindall 20. Bryson Goodwin 21. Daniel Vasquez.

Canberra Raiders

1. Adam Cook 2. Semi Valemi 3. Matthew Timoko 4. Harley Smith-Shields 5. Nick Cotric 6. Matt Frawley 7. Sam Williams 8. Dunamis Lui 9. Tom Starling 10. Iosia Soliola 11. Hudson Young 12. Corey Harawira-Naera 13. Siliva Havili 14. Kai O’Donnell 15. Ryan Sutton 16. Darby Medlyn 17. Jarrett Subloo 18. Ata Mariota 19. Joseph Tapine 20. Jack Wighton 21. Elliott Whitehead.

KEY STAT

Cronulla-Canberra games always have a bit of spice, going way back to Super League in 1997 when the second-placed Sharks beat the third-placed Raiders twice (in the final five system) at Shark Park to qualify for the grand final. Raiders fans will still remember 2016, when the Sharks travelled to Canberra and beat the red-hot Raiders in the qualifying final, with Michael Ennis (now on the Raiders’ coaching staff) mocking the Viking Clap at full time.

Since 1998, the Sharks lead 23-18, with Canberra winning last year’s two clashes.

The first was in round 14 (a rare Thursday night game for Canberra), with the Raiders winning 22-20, despite the Sharks scoring four tries to three. The Raiders ruined Paul Gallen’s farewell from Shark Park, with Aidan Sezer kicking three field goals as the Raiders won 15-14 in Golden Point.

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BATTLE TO WATCH

Connor Tracey vs Sam Williams

Connor Tracey has had a decent season, playing 14 games (scoring four tries) and partnering Shaun Johnson for a few of them. With Johnson out, Tracey will need to step up, especially if the Sharks are to advance beyond week one of the finals.

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While Williams is beloved at Bruce, he hasn’t played first grade footy since last year, overtaken by Aidan Sezer and George Williams: it’s testament to Williams’ love of the lime green that he’s stayed, especially with no reserve grade footy to fill the gaps. While Williams will give his all, will the long break from NRL footy affect him when the pressure’s on?

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GAME DETAILS

Canberra’s decision to rest a few starts before the finals change this game’s complexion. This time last year (or close enough), Ricky rested a few in the final round game against the Warriors, with the New Zealanders sneaking a surprise win.

Attitude will be the big factor in this game: Canberra will be wanting to start fast in preparation for harder games ahead. At least they have plenty of young guys who are ready to rip in.

What will Cronulla’s attitude be? They’re guaranteed to finish eighth, and they’ll miss Shaun Johnson, so will they their minds already be on the elimination final?

Canberra by four.

Date: Saturday, September 26.
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 5:30pm

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