The Raiders enter Round 19 knowing that from this point onwards, every game becomes must-win. After easily disposing of the Cowboys last weekend, the Raiders have put together a solid month of football with three wins in their past four matches. Unfortunately, their early season fade-outs have placed them in an unenviable position with just seven rounds remaining. With injuries to two of their big stars this week, a resurgent Sharks is the last thing the Green Machine needed as they try and scrape into the finals.
Cronulla come into this match off a dominant performance at Panthers Stadium that well and truly announced their place in the premiership race. After a quiet opening to the season, new recruit Matt Moylan looks to be finding form at just the right time and it's no coincidence that his purple patch has coincided with six wins in the Sharks' last eight matches. It's 'win at all costs' for Canberra and plenty to play for as Friday night football returns to the Shire.
2018 - Round 10 - Sharks 24 def. Raiders 16 at GIO Stadium
2017 - Round 2 - Sharks 42 def. Raiders 16 at GIO Stadium
2017 - Round 22 - Raiders 30 def. Sharks 12 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2016 - Round 22 - Raiders 30 def. Sharks 14 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2016 - Round 7 - Sharks 40 def. Raiders 16 at GIO Stadium
Thankfully for the Raiders, they don't face the Sharks in Canberra this season because it's been an unhappy hunting ground for the Green Machine. You have to go all the way back to 2011 to find the last time the Raiders defeated the Sharks at GIO Stadium.... talk about a hodoo! The Sharks must love something about the Nation's Capital and we're guessing it's not the cold.
|1||Valentine Holmes||Brad Abbey|
|2||Sione Katoa||Nick Cotric|
|3||Jesse Ramien||Michael Oldfield|
|4||Ricky Leutele||Joseph Leilua|
|5||Edrick Lee||Jordan Rapana|
|6||Matt Moylan||Sam Williams|
|7||Chad Townsend||Aidan Sezer*|
|8||Andrew Fifita||Dunamis Lui|
|9||Jayden Brailey||Josh Hodgson (C)|
|10||Matt Prior||Junior Paulo|
|11||Scott Sorensen||Iosia Soliola|
|12||Wade Graham||Elliott Whitehead|
|13||Paul Gallen (C)||Josh Papalii|
|14||Joseph Paulo||Blake Austin|
|15||James Segeyaro||Luke Bateman|
|16||Aaron Woods||Siliva Havili|
|17||Jayson Bukuya||Liam Knight|
|18||Ava Seumanufagai||Craig Garvey|
|19||Sosaia Feki||Jack Murchie|
|20||Kurt Dillon||Royce Hunt|
|21||Kyle Flanagan||Emre Guler|
* Aidan Sezer is expected to be ruled out on Thursday and will be replaced by Blake Austin
The facts that matter
NRL and Sharks veteran Luke Lewis announced his retirement from the game this week after 17 years playing at the top level. It's been a remarkable career for the hard-headed Lewis who has experienced everything a rugby league player dreams of. Two premierships, Australian and New South Wales representative jerseys and a Clive Churchill Medal bookmark what has been a remarkable career.
Lewis' announcement could be extremely timely. With only seven games until the finals series, the Sharks are looking to make a big move up the ladder and the retirement of one of the Sharks' inspirational big men could just be the catalyst for a premiership push. They did it for Michael Ennis in 2016, so why not Lewis in 2018? Expect the Cronulla outfit to be up for this game in a big way.
The Raiders week from hell got even worse over the weekend. After having the NRL step in and extend Jack Wighton's suspension for assault, the Green Machine were then dealt a huge blow on Saturday night with captain Jarrod Croker limping off with a dislocated kneecap against the Cowboys. The worst has been confirmed with the 27-year-old needing surgery - meaning he will take no further part in the Raiders 2018 campaign.
As if losing their inspirational skipper wasn't enough, Canberra were dealt the cruellest of blows when Aidan Sezer went down with a hamstring complaint following training during the week. Blake Austin returns to the starting side alongside five-eighth Sam Williams but it's less than ideal preparation for the Raiders. Sitting two wins outside the eight, they need to win almost all of their matches from this point to even consider tasting September football.
The Sharks have been in red-hot form the past two months with six wins in their past eight. They looked polished against the Panthers last weekend and with Matt Moylan finding some late-season form, they could just end Canberra's season on Friday night. Sharks by 12.
Can Canberra do the unthinkable or will their 2018 campaign end at Shark Park? Let us know in the poll below.