NRL Tips expert Steve Green brings you his preview of Thursday night footy, featuring the Raiders and the Sharks.
Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sharks
The Raiders are coming off back-to-back wins, both of which were on the back of tough defense. The Raiders are the second best defensive team in the NRL right now, averaging an amazingly low 13.8 points conceded per game (Storm are 1st on 12.8 points per game). But it is worth noting that the Souths are ranked 3rd on 16.2 points, with the Knights 4th on 16.3 points and Roosters 5th on 18.3 points conceded per game! The Sharks rank 7th for points conceded, worth 19.2 points.
So, the Raiders are not just among the leaders, they are smashing teams that have always had far better defense than the Green Machine, who for as long as I can remember, were a brilliant attacking team.
However, it is worth noting that after suffering three losses in a row, the Raiders last two wins have come against two teams that are horribly out of form of late (Doggies and Wests). Last week the Doggies were smashed again, while the weekend before the Raiders belted Wests, they were beaten pretty convincingly by Souths.
I think the Raiders recent form may be a little bit inflated by the way in which their opponents played over the past fortnight, and this weekend, up against a Sharks team that has recently welcomed back guys like Wade Graham, Matt Moylan and Shaun Johnson, could be a shock to their system.
Plus the Sharks are a hard team to contain. Since Coach Flanagan has gone, and with the rise of guys like Xerri, the Sharks are a far more attacking-focussed team than in past years. They currently lead the NRL in Line Breaks (5.1 per game), whereas the Raiders only have 3.7 per game. Last weekend the Sharks piled on 42 points against the Eels, despite the Sharks making 15 errors!
And interestingly, the Sharks have been without some of their best attacking weapons for big chunks of the season, so that should provide some content to those numbers and therefore it is understandable that punters have lined up this week to back Sharks to win the Premiership. This team is as good as the Sharks team that won the competition in 2016.
Although the Raiders have welcomed back experienced guys like Bateman and Tapine in recent weeks, they are still without Hodgson and Leilua, and they are missing youthful hard-heads like Horsborough and Young, who added much needed aggression. In contrast, the Sharks have guys like Jack Williams and Hamlin-Uele, who are strong, mobile forwards that are capable of carrying on the good work of Fifita and co.
On my ratings, the Sharks have skyrocketed of late and I think the market will continue to shorten for the Sharks as kick off approaches.
Suggested Bet: Cronulla +1.5
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