Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Penrith Panthers: Lineups, preview and predictions

Southern Cross Group Stadium, Sunday 22nd April, 4:10pm AEST.

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Overview 

Round 7 wraps up with the match featuring the in-form Panthers, who travel to the Sutherland Shire to tackle the decimated Sharks. A rivalry definitely exists within this match for the reason that both combatants entered the competition in the same year, back in 1967. 

The Sharks come into this match on the back of a second consecutive defeat, this time to their bitter rivals in the Dragons. That match was a double whammy for the Shire boys, as they surrendered bragging rights to the old enemy, and lost key forwards such as Andrew Fifita, as well as co-captains Paul Gallen and Wade Graham. As such, their derby loss saw them drop further down the ladder into 13th position. 

Conversely, the Panthers claimed a third consecutive victory since their shock loss to the Bulldogs in round 3, with a convincing 35-12 win over the Titans at home. These victories have occurred, despite the absence of halfback Nathan Cleary. However, among other factors, it has been the steadying hand of veteran pivot James Maloney who has helped guide the Panthers’ ship. This victory has seen them leapfrog the previously undefeated. 

There will be an abundance of emotion for this match, given that Maloney will be returning to the Shire in Panthers colours. Similarly, former Panther turned Shark, Matt Moylan, will be eager to tackle his old mates, given he now plies his trade in the Sutherland Shire. Both players will be eager to get one up on their respective former teams. 

Recent meetings 

2017 – Round 7 – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 28 def. Penrith Panthers 2 at Panthers Stadium. 

2016 – Round 18 – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 26 def. Penrith Panthers 10 at Panthers Stadium. 

2016 – Round 8 – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 20 def. Penrith Panthers 18 at Southern Cross Group Stadium. 

2015 – Round 8 – Penrith Panthers 26 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 at Panthers Stadium. 

2014 – Round 20 – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 def. Penrith Panthers 16 at Carrington Park. 

As can be seen from the aforementioned recent meetings, the Sharks have won four out of the five meetings against the Panthers. In fact, the last time the Panthers returned to the foot of the Blue Mountains from the Sutherland Shire with the two competition points was back in 2012, courtesy of a one point victory. In fact, in terms of their overall record against each other, the Sharks have triumphed on 52 occasions, while the Panthers emerged victorious on 43 occasions, followed by 3 draws. 

Both teams entered the elite rugby league competition in 1967. Despite the fact that the Shire boys lead the overall head-to-head with the Panthers, it is actually the Mountain men who lead the overall count regarding premierships won, winning 2 grand finals (1991 and 2003) to the Sharks’ one (2016). And the Panthers take immense delight in reminding the Sharks of this stat regarding premierships won. 

Selected teams 

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Penrith Panthers
1 Josh Dugan Dylan Edwards
2 Edrick Lee Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
3 Jesse Ramien Corey Harawira-Naera
4 Ricky Leutele Dean Whare
5 Valentine Holmes Christian Crichton
6 Matt Moylan Tyrone Peachey
7 Chad Townsend James Maloney
8 Andrew Fifita Trent Merrin
9 Jayden Brailey Peter Wallace
10 Matt Prior Reagan Campbell-Gillard
11 Luke Lewis Viliame Kikau
12 Kurt Capewell Isaah Yeo
13 Joseph Paulo James Fisher-Harris
Interchange
14 Scott Sorensen Sione Katoa
15 James Segeyaro Kaide Ellis
16 Ava Seumanufagai Moses Leota
17 Kurt Dillon James Tamou
Reserves
18 Jack Williams Wayde Egan
19 Trent Hodkinson Nick Lui-Toso
20 Wade Graham Thomas Eisenhuth
21 Braden Uele Jack Hetherington

The facts that matter

Sharks 

Despite the seemingly lopsided scoreline last week in favour of the Dragons, the Sharks were actually rather competitive against their old rivals. Exemplifying this, is the fact that they were prepared to throw the ball around, as they matched the Dragons with the number of offloads made (15 offloads each). As such, they were able to hit the front in the first half, as well as reducing the deficit from 18 points in the second half, to only 8 points, before their rivals would run away with the match. 

Unfortunately, what contributed to their downfall is the fact that they conceded more penalties than their opponents and committed more errors (although this can be attributed to throwing the ball around). As such the Sharkies finished the match with a 70% completion rate. Moreover, they missed 40 tackles, to the Saints’ 21. 

Given the Sharks’ struggles in attack this season, it is vital that they get off to a good start against the Panthers. Whilst their defence would have them worthy of a top 8 spot, their attack can be best described as profligate and lacking bite. 

Panthers 

The Panthers have won five of their six games this season, and could have easily had a perfect record, had they been able to recover from their poor start against the Bulldogs in round 3. In fact, prior to that loss, their opening two rounds saw them give both their opponents in the Eels and Rabbitohs, 14 point head starts, much like in their loss. However, unlike these victories, they would eventually get found out, as they were unable to overhaul the Doggies. As such, they have never given their opponents such a start since. 

In fact, that loss seems to have been a catalyst for the Mountain men, as they have been scintillating in attack in their commanding victories over the Cowboys in Townsville, and the Titans at home. Moreover, the Panthers have demonstrated that they can employ bruising defence, as they demonstrated in their victory over their local rivals, the Eels. This shows that not only can they prevent tries being scored, but they are scoring tries for fun. Moreover, their comeback victories. 

For this match, the Panthers just need to get off to a good start and employ their tactics of bruising defence when needed. If they do get off to a poor start, it will be down to Maloney and the backs to come up with the points to overhaul their opponents’ lead. 

Prediction

This match will feature an abundance of emotion, given the return of James Maloney in Panthers colours. Similarly, Matt Moylan will be up against his team, while wearing Sharks colours. The Sharks will be eager to rip into Maloney, and you can be sure the Panthers will be keen to do the same to Moylan. At the same time, Maloney will be keen to remind the Sharks what they are missing, and Moylan will be eager to show the Panthers that he made the correct decision to leave. 

Although the Panthers do not have a great record at Southern Cross Group Stadium, and have not left with the points since 2012, their dangerous form is too difficult to disregard. Moreover, the Sharks have some key personnel on the sidelines, and this is not ideal, when they are up against an in-form opponent. As such, I expect the Panthers to return to the foot of the Blue Mountains with the two points, with former Shark, James Moloney to sink the boot in, figuratively and literally. Panthers by 7.

Can the Panthers keep their good run going, or will the Sharks get back in the winner’s circle at home? Let us know in the comments below.

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