Round 18 kicks off with the fourth-placed Panthers playing host to the sixth-placed Sharks at the foot of the Blue Mountains. Both sides are set to resume hostilities, especially with an existing rivalry between the pair, as they both entered the competition in 1967. This match will be the hundredth encounter between the sides.
The Panthers arrested a two-match losing streak, with a commanding 36-4 victory against the Warriors at home. It could be said that the win was against all the odds, when you consider that they had the likes of James Maloney, Nathan Cleary and Tyrone Peachey missing from their ranks, due to State of Origin duty. Thus, the win ensured they remained in the top four, especially with the likes of the Roosters and their opponents breathing down their necks.
The Sharks enter this match fresh from the bye, however, their most recent match came against the Warriors in New Zealand. They would escape with a nail-biting 18-15 victory, courtesy of a late try by winger, Edrick Lee. Although the final pass to Lee may have been suspect, there was no denying that they showed an abundance of character to nab a victory over a tough opponent in terrible conditions, away from home.
Similar to their earlier encounter this year, there will be an abundance of emotion on display in this match. Former Shark, Maloney will be eager to atone for his shocker against his old team, with a big performance here. Similarly, former Panther Matt Moylan will be very keen to have another big one against his former team, upon his return to his old stamping ground, especially after a very impressive performance in his earlier encounter with them. Both teams will welcome back players from State of Origin duty.
2018 – Round 7 – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 26 def. Penrith Panthers 22 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
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.
The Sharks hold the ascendancy over the Panthers in their most recent encounters, having won four of the five recent matches. Their most recent match saw the Sharks cause a major boilover and upset the Panthers, to spoil Maloney’s return to the Sutherland Shire. Given this will be the hundredth meeting between the two, the previous ninety nine encounters saw the Sharks claim 53 of these matches, while the Panthers won 43 of these encounters, with three drawn matches (1979, 1984 and 1998). They also have a fair record at Penrith, especially in this millennium, having only lost four matches at the foot of the Blue Mountains since 2000.
However, for all the Sharks’ dominance, there is one thing that the Panthers can gloat about. That is, the number of premierships that they have won, in comparison to the Sharks. Given that both sides entered the competition in 1967, there was always going to be a rivalry of sorts between these two teams. And when the Panthers won their premierships (1991 and 2003), they loved to rub it into the Sharks’ noses, especially given the Sharks would not claim their maiden premiership until their 50th year in existence. Thus, whilst the Sharks can claim overall dominance over the Panthers, the Mountain men can claim the ascendancy over the Shire boys, with regards to premierships won.
|Penrith Panthers||Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks|
|1||Caleb Aekins||Valentine Holmes|
|2||Christian Crichton||Sione Katoa|
|3||Waqa Blake||Jesse Ramien|
|4||Dean Whare||Ricky Leutele|
|5||Tyrone Phillips||Edrick Lee|
|6||Tyrone May||Matt Moylan|
|7||Jarome Luai||Chad Townsend|
|8||Trent Merrin||Andrew Fifita|
|9||Sione Katoa||Jayden Brailey|
|10||James Tamou||Matt Prior|
|11||Viliame Kikau||Kurt Capewell|
|12||Isaah Yeo||Wade Graham|
|13||James Fisher-Harris||Paul Gallen|
|14||Wayde Egan||Joseph Paulo|
|15||Corey Harawira-Naera||James Segeyaro|
|16||Jack Hetherington||Aaron Woods|
|17||Moses Leota||Jayson Bukuya|
|18||Liam Martin||Scott Sorensen|
|19||Kaide Ellis||Ava Seumanufagai|
|20||Tyrone Peachey||Sosaia Feki|
|21||James Maloney||Kyle Flanagan|
The facts that matter
Last week’s massive victory over the Warriors saw the Panthers arrest a two-game losing streak, thereby returning to the winners circle. After their losses to the Roosters away and the Sea Eagles at home (their first this season at Penrith), it was vital that they win that match, as it meant that they consolidated on their place in the top 4. They were able to claim that highly impressive victory without their Origin stars, and they will welcome them back into their team for this crucial match.
Despite their recent wobbles prior to last week’s win, it’s hardly surprising that the Panthers find themselves entrenched in the top four. This is because they have scored the fifth most points in the competition (352), behind only the Rabbitohs, Dragons, Storm and Raiders. Moreover, they are ranked third for post-contact metres (8057), fifth for line breaks (62), third in metres gained (24681)and first in kick return metres (3041). Should the match be decided by goal kicking, they have an advantage there, considering they are ranked equal first, with 86% (equal with the Storm). However, if there’s some weaknesses that the Mountain men may have, it’s the amount of ineffective tackles they have made (579 - 3rd most), as well as the number of penalties conceded (155 - more than any other team).
As for their home record, although they are not undefeated, it is still intimidating nevertheless. Their record reads seven wins and two losses. Those two losses came against the Cowboys in Bathurst, and the Sea Eagles in Penrith. This means that they have only lost once at the base of the Mountains. Although they have won most of their overall home games against the Sharks, their recent record against the Shire boys at home is less than ideal, having allowed the Sharks to return to the Sutherland Shire with the points on all but four occasions this millennium.
There is minimal doubt that James Maloney will be eager to atone for his shocker in their earlier encounter. Thus, he will be eager to get one back on his former teammates. Moreover, his new teammates will be eager to rip into former Panther, Matt Moylan, to ensure his return to the foot of the Blue Mountains is one he’d like to forget.
The Sharks went into last week’s bye on the back of a gutsy 18-15 victory over the Warriors across the Tasman. Although the final pass in the lead up to the match-winning try was rather suspect, there is no doubt that the Sharkies deserved their victory, having overcome an early deficit against a tough opponent, as well as a quintessentially raucous pro-Warriors crowd, as well as the incredibly poor conditions. There is even less doubt that they will feel refreshed, coming off a bye, as well as welcoming back speedster Valentine Holmes, to add some much-needed firepower in their ranks.
The Sharks have performed above many people’s expectations, to find themselves knowing on the door of the top four. They find themselves in this position, courtesy of some miserly defence, in that they have only let in 282 points for the season, to be ranked behind only the Roosters, Storm, Rabbitohs and their opponents. The Sharkies may be ranked outside the top eight in terms of their attack, but they are ranked rather highly in terms offloads, making 187 thus far this season (behind only the Warriors, Dragons and Tigers). They have also ranked equal first with bitter rivals, the Dragons, having made 6 intercepts for the season. However, they will want to improve on their attack, as they are ranked ninth in terms of points scored. This is a likely reason why their points differential is not as strong as it could be.
The Sharks’ away record reads five wins and three losses. This is actually one of the better away records, as only the Rabbitohs and Warriors have better records away from home. At the same time, the Shire boys’ away record is on the same level as the Storm. Their losses away from home have come against the Cowboys, Dragons and Rabbitohs. As for their record at Penrith, they may hold a negative overall record at the venue, however they have won the majority of their matches at the base of the Mountains since the turn of the millennium. This means that they will feel confident of returning from the foot of the Blue Mountains to the Sutherland Shire with the competition points.
Given the Sharkies were able to get the better of their opponents in round 7, courtesy of minimising the influence of former Shark, James Maloney, they will be keen to repeat the dose. This also means that Maloney’s former Sharks teammates will be eager to rip into him and minimise his influence again. Moreover, former Panther Matt Moylan had a memorable game against his former club earlier this season, and will be eager to replicate his efforts here, as he returns to his old stamping ground.
There will be no shortage of emotion in this match for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, a win here will prove vital for both teams, especially in the context of the top four. Both teams will want to finish in the top four, in order to progress deep into the finals. Secondly, former Panther turned Shark, Moylan will be eager to have another big game against his former employers, and given he will be returning to the foot of the Blue Mountains for the first time since his swap deal for Maloney, he has even greater motivation to do so. Conversely, former Shark turned Panther, Maloney will be eager to get one back on his former team, as well as atone for his rather substandard display against them back in round 7.
In what will be a very chilly evening at the foot of the Blue Mountains, it is safe to assume that both teams will leave no stones unturned, especially given that this match will mark the 100th encounter between the adversaries, who both entered the competition in 1967. Despite the fact that the likes of Maloney, Cleary, Peachey and Holmes will be feeling the effects of Wednesday evening’s State of Origin match, both teams will definitely be going after each other, in what should be an enthralling encounter. It is likely to go down to the wire, however, I feel that the Panthers’ playmakers may struggle to backup from Origin. Moreover, if there’s any team that is more than capable of defeating the Panthers at the foot of the Blue Mountains, it’s the Sharks, especially given their recent record at the venue. As such, I will tip the Sharkies to get over the line by the skin of their teeth. Sharks by 1.
Will the Panther pups produce another stunner at home, or will the Sharks prove too strong on the road? Let us know in the comments and poll below.