The Saturday finals double-header begins in the nation’s capital as the Raiders clash with the Sharks. It’s win or go home for both sides so expect a fierce battle. We have a full preview and betting tips for the clash, courtesy of matta91, below.
Canberra Raiders (5th) v Cronulla Sharks (8th)
GIO Stadium, 5:40pm Saturday
After the Raiders cruised past the Sharks last week in their 38-28 victory, they were agonisingly close to finishing in the top 4. But the Eels just fell over the line against Wests and that ultimately sealed up 5th spot for Canberra and a home final against Cronulla. The Raiders begin their quest for a 2nd straight Grand Final appearance with solid winning form, having won 6 of their last 8 games and were able to rest the majority of their stars last week. So they’ll bring back their big guns for this final. In the backline, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Croker and Rapana are all back. In the halves, Wighton and Williams return to the lineup. While in the forward pack, the Raiders get Bateman, Tapine, Papalii and Whitehead back from a well-earned rest.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have limped into the finals as injuries and poor form will probably come back to cost them on Saturday night. Which is mainly highlighted by a serious ankle injury to Shaun Johnson a few weeks ago. They’ve also lost 3 of their last 4 games and have not beaten a top 8 side this season (0-8). On a positive note, Chad Townsend is back at halfback and he'll partner Connor Tracey in the halves. While in the outside backs, Katoa, Dugan and Ramien return after missing last week and will give them some attacking firepower. While in the back row, the impressive pair of Talakai and Rudolf are back to strengthen the forward pack.
In terms of points scored, the Sharks did finish 5th in the NRL with 24 ppg and just ahead of the Raiders (22.3). However, the Shaun Johnson injury does impact their scoring potential. Defensively is also where the Sharks really lack a decent structure. They finished dead last in the NRL for missed tackles and give up 24 points per game (6th worst). They're also last in the NRL for set completion (75.5%). The Raiders are much better defensively, giving up just 15.9 ppg. But they have been fairly error-riddled as they rank 4th in the NRL with an average of 11.5 errors per game.
It would be pretty brave to back a Sharks upset on Saturday considering they've really struggled to beat top 8 sides this year and their defence just isn't up to scratch. So we feel like this should be a high scoring final. So we’re predicting that the Raiders will likely hit the lead early and that'll see the Sharks playing catch up for most of the 80 minutes, which should mean plenty of points on the scoreboard.