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Canberra Raiders v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Saturday 5:40pm at GIO Stadium Canberra

Rivals face off in do-or-die contest

The Canberra Raiders and the Cronulla Sharks will put their seasons on the line when they meet at GIO Stadium in an Elimination Final on Saturday evening.

Spending the past year waiting for another chance to challenge for the title, the Canberra Raiders have shown tremendous resilience to overcome the loss of co-captain Josh Hodgson and reach the finals in fifth position with 14 wins and six losses.

Welcoming back nine first-grade regulars after last week's calculated move to rest players prior to the finals, the Raiders will be looking to down their opponents in back-to-back weeks following their 38-28 win at Kogarah seven days earlier.

Holding a solid record in finals played at GIO Stadium with six wins from nine matches, the Raiders will be hoping to continue a historical trend that has seen the fifth-placed team win seven out of eight elimination finals since 2012. Ricky Stuart holds a 50 per cent finals record since beginning his coaching tenure with the club in 2014.

Set to be without English forward Ryan Sutton for the remainder of the season, veteran Iosia Soliola retains his place on the bench after a successful return from facial fractures last week.

Reaching the finals for a record sixth consecutive year, the eighth-placed Cronulla Sharks have recorded ten wins and ten losses - while failing to defeat a top eight side during the home-and-away season.

Recalling six players rested from last week's clash with the Raiders, the Sharks will receive an additional boost with premiership-winning halfback Chad Townsend returning after serving a three-match suspension for a shoulder charge.

Facing an uphill battle on Saturday evening given the track record of eighth-placed teams in Elimination Finals, coach John Morris will be hoping his side can replicate the North Queensland Cowboys (2017) in progressing through to the second week of the finals.

Holding a strong record at GIO Stadium in recent years with six wins from their past seven visits, the Sharks will be hoping to continue a strong finals record against the Raiders having won four out of six meetings.

Last meeting: Round 20 2020 - Sharks 28 Raiders 38

Who to watch: Developing into one of the best front rowers in the world over the past two years, Josh Papalii will be determined to make an impact during the business end of the season. Gaining a reputation as a hard man for taking on Paul Gallen when the two sides clashed during the 2012 finals series, the 28-year-old has only grown in stature since with 150 metres, 56 post-contact metres and 31 tackles on average in 2020. Scoring the try that propelled the Raiders into the grand final last year, expect Papalii to have a similar impact on Saturday evening as the Raiders eye off four straight wins against the Sharks.

Set to make a welcome return for the Sharks after three weeks on the sidelines, halfback Chad Townsend shapes as a pivotal figure in the visitor's bid to cause an upset. Providing a much-needed injection of experience to the youngest spine in the finals, the 29-year-old local junior has shown plenty of class when fully fit with nine try-assists in 11 matches. Enduring the difficulty of being replaced with 20 minutes to go when the Sharks travelled to Canberra during the 2016 finals series, look for Townsend to have a point to prove as he fights to keep the Sharks' season alive.

The favourite: With home teams winning 69 per cent of elimination finals since the McIntyre System was abolished, the Raiders are expected to uphold the precedent and make the cut from eight to six.

My tip: Coming into the finals with nine wins from their past 11 matches, the Raiders should send the Sharks packing with a comprehensive victory at home. Raiders by 16.

The winner of the Elimination Final between Canberra and Cronulla will face the loser of the Qualifying Final between Penrith and Sydney next week.

This is the eighth time in the NRL era a match in the first week of the finals has been played between teams that faced off in the final round of the regular season. In four of the previous seven occasions, the team that lost in the final round of the regular season has bounced back the following week.

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Semi Valemi 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Jordan Rapana 5. Nick Cotric 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papali'i 9. Tom Starling 15. Iosia Soliola 11. John Bateman 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 10. Dunamis Lui 14. Siliva Havili 16. Hudson Young 17. Corey Harawira-Naera

1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Connor Tracey 7. Chad Townsend 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 9. Blayke Brailey 13. Toby Rudolf 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 14. Siosifa Talakai 10. Aaron Woods 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Andrew Fifita 17. Jack Williams

Referees: Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials: Phil Henderson, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell;

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