Will the Knights give their supporters one final hurrah before the end of the season?
Newcastle look certain to claim the wooden spoon again for the third straight year but have improved significantly on their 2016 efforts, winning four games than last year.
On top of that they have scored more points this season and are averaging 17.82 points per game compared to the 12.7 they were in their previous campaign.
They will be hoping to end 2017 on a high in front of what should be another bumper crowd at McDonalds Jones Stadium. Newcastle head into the game off the back of a 46-28 defeat to Canberra in the nation’s capital.
Cronulla find themselves heading to the Hunter off the back of a narrow two-point loss to fellow title contenders Sydney Roosters last Saturday night. A late penalty goal to Michael Gordon sealing what has been a wretched season at home for the defending premiers who finish up 5-7 at Shark Park.
OUT OF BULLETS?
NEWCASTLE has certainly turned a few heads in the past month or so.
They notched three straight wins over the Dragons, Warriors and Eels to show the NRL that they are a team on the rise and have grown as a unit since winning just one match in 2016.
That momentum, however, appears to have fizzled out now.
Nathan Brown’s men suffered a 44-12 loss to premiership favourites Melbourne before conceding 46 points when going down to Canberra.
CRONULLA find themselves in a similar situation to what they did 12 months ago.
Having put themselves in with a great chance of clinching the minor premiership, a run of outs at the backend of the season saw them go into the final round with a winner-take-all against the Melbourne Storm. History shows the Storm won and clinched the JJ Giltinan Shield, however, the Sharks got their payback just a few weeks later.
Cronulla are now in their worst slump since that period and go into the match with just one win in their past four games.
Several things haven’t helped the premiers including the worst completion rate in the NRL at 73.8 percent, most errors (11.8 per game) and conceding the second most penalties (7.1).
All those things need to be eliminated from their game and in a hurry if they want to defend their title.
CRONULLA has won the past five games and are aiming for a sixth straight win for the first time in the club’s history.
These sides met back in Round 5 with the Sharks heavy favourites, however, we got a taste of what Newcastle was about with a two-try burst late in the piece to lock the scores up at 18-all. A James Maloney field goal just two minutes from the end sealed the deal for the home side.
Prior to that they had racked up 32 and 62 point defeats of the Knights with the latter of those back in Round 10 last year at McDonald Jones Stadium – the worst loss the home side has ever suffered at the ground.
We find it hard to tip against the Sharks ($1.34 @ Unibet).
Cronulla has been sensational on the road this season going 9-2 with only the Melbourne Storm boasting a better strike rate when traveling. Overall, they are ranked second in the competition in defence (16.9ppg), again, only behind the Storm.
While those stats on paper make them a near certainty, Shane Flanagan’s men haven’t been playing like a side that is ready to defend their premiership. They definitely appear to be a in a funk.
That could open up the door for the Knights to spring an upset here.
While the loss of Brock Lamb has cruelled their chances, one bet we fancy is Newcastle to be leading at halftime. They have led at the break on multiple occasions this season and are $3.10 (@ Unibet) to do so here.
Overall though, we will stick with the Sharks to get the job done because they will be desperate to get some momentum going heading into the finals next week.
NEWCASTLE TO LEAD AT HALFTIME