Maloney set to be big fish for Sharks
Wigan up against it in quest to be crowned world champions
Wigan v Cronulla
Sky Sports 2, 3pm Sunday
Wigan full-back Sam Tomkins claimed this week that Super League’s top teams are of a similar standard to the best sides in Australia’s NRL but that’s not a view shared by bookmakers, who make the Warriors 11-4 underdogs to become the first English team since 2012 to become world club champions.
Opponents Cronulla didn’t kick off 2016 among the favourites for Grand Final glory but ended their 49-year wait for a title by edging Melbourne in the NRL showpiece.
However the Sharks are missing several of last season’s star names including their top three tryscorers Valentine Holmes, Ben Barba and Sosaia Feki, who touched down 49 times between them in 2016.
All-action hooker Michael Ennis has retired and there’s definitely a feeling of optimism in the Wigan camp. Coach Shaun Wane has promised a full-on performance as they look for a fourth global triumph.
Punters shouldn’t get carried away with the rhetoric though – the other three victories were in the 20th century and it would still be surprising if the Warriors are able to reverse recent Super League versus NRL form.
Wane has John Bateman available again after injury but will otherwise keep faith with the side that eased to a 26-16 success in their Super League opener at Salford last weekend.
That means Sam Tomkins, Michael McIlorum and Dom Manfredi all remain sidelined.
Wigan’s last attempt to win this trophy at home ended in a 21-15 defeat at the hands of St George Illawarra Dragons and the layers are expecting something similar. They offer the hosts an eight-point start on the handicap.
The best bet may be to back the Sharks to get home narrowly. Hills offer 15-8 against an Australian win by 12 points or fewer and that looks a decent bet.
Although the last two events have produced blowout wins by North Queensland and South Sydney, the previous three Australian wins on English soil came by four, six and eight points.
String-puller James Maloney is the likely architect of a Cronulla victory and looks a decent punt at 9-1 to be named man of the match.
Maloney may be the first name on the scoresheet too. The Sharks goalkicker started the scoring in the Grand Final win with an early penalty and a similar outcome is a tempting price at 7-1 in this clash.
It’s 10-1 that Wigan are first on the scoreboard via a penalty and that also appeals as the Warriors are likely to take any points on offer in the early stages.
Cronulla to win by one to 12 points
2pts 15-8 Hills
J Maloney man of the match
1pt 9-1 Paddy Power
Cronulla penalty first scoring play
0.5pt 7-1 general
Wigan penalty first scoring play
0.5pt 10-1 BoyleSports