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MATCH PREVIEW | Penrith Panthers vs Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

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Mitch Dransfield previews an all-important fixture between the Penrith Panthers and Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at Panthers Stadium. 

TEAM FORM GUIDE

Penrith Panthers

Penrith faced a desperate Bulldogs side that turned up to upset the visitors 16-8 at Bankwest Stadium.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Cronulla played a South Sydney side looking to cement a top two spot; the Sharks put in more effort across all facets of the game with returning stars Andrew Fifita, Matt Moylan and Wade Graham (the star of the fixture). The Sharks ran away early with the points and even with a Rabbitohs fight back, the home side continued to push on to win 39-24.

SQUAD NEWS

Penrith Panthers

Penrith enjoy Viliame Kikau returning from his two-week suspension, which sees Frank Winterstein exit the side. Interchange players Jarome Luai and Wayde Egan are both out through injury with Spencer Leniu and Sione Katoa joining the bench. Matt Burton is on the extended bench with James Maloney fighting a tripping charge which could see him out.

Penrith Panthers’ Squad: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 4. Brent Naden 5. Brian To’o 6. James Maloney 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Sione Katoa 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Moses Leota 17. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 18. Frank Winterstein 19. Jed Cartwright 20. Stephen Crichton 21. Matt Burton.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Cronulla have a few backline changes with Josh Dugan shifting to fullback for injured Matt Moylan through concussion, while Sosaia Feki moves onto the wing and Josh Morris pushes into the centres.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks’ Squad: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Morris 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Aaron Woods 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Kurt Capewell 15. Jack Williams 16. Andrew Fifita 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele 18. Billy Magoulias 19. Blayke Brailey 20. Sione Katoa 21. Kyle Flanagan.

 HEAD TO HEAD

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The rivalry between Penrith and Cronulla has been fierce of late, with the last four meetings decided by 12 points or less. The Sharks have the wood over the Panthers though, with the last seven matches going the way of the men in the black, white and blue. Their last match was the 2018 semi final, Cronulla winning by one point in the dying stages. These games tend to be explosive: for the duration dominated by forwards who want to stamp their authority to allow the stellar halves of both sides to edge in front.

KEY BATTLE

A heavyweight battle will be seen Friday through match ups in the forwards; however, the most explosive and must-see clash will be between edge back rowers in the returning Viliame Kikau and Sharks rookie Briton Nikora.

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Nikora is having a stellar first year with the second-rower cementing his spot on the right hand side for the Sharks; he has been explosive in all aspects of the game. In just eighteen appearances the already class forward has scored five tries, had nine line breaks on top of playing the full eighty minutes. Nikora is matched with containing the elusive Fijian star in Kikau (returning for Penrith) and will be a real test for the rookie; the line-speed in defence will be crucial to counter any attacking opportunities his opposite number has to try and limit any impact he produces, which will go a long way to helping Cronulla win if done correctly.

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The shining light in the Panthers’ pack in the last two years has been Kikau, the damaging solo runs or just the amount of attention he now commits from defences has him as an elite threat out on the left edge. In a shortened season – through earlier injuries and suspension – the back rower has been one of the most influential players for the Panthers this year, with Kikau averaging 123 run metres with 570 post contact metres, alongside the 12 hit-ups he makes. It’s a strike weapon that Cronulla should be on high alert for. This is a big match for the home side; only a few matches left and bordering on the top eight, Viliame’s attacking prowess needs to be used to full effect all match. The Panthers missed his services the last two weeks, falling to the Raiders and Bulldogs; with his return the left edge can once again flourish with early ball to the back rower to have him produce his potent cutting runs or crafty ball playing to see his side win.

THE IMPORTANT DETAILS

Date: Friday 9th August.
Venue: Panthers Stadium.
Kick-off: 7:55pm.
Referees: Grant Atkins, Phil Henderson.

WHO WILL WIN?

This is one of the big matches of round 21. The Sharks are looking for their third straight win and to continue on their way to finals. Penrith’s James Maloney is out with a tripping charge and they will be under the pump before a ball is even kicked, with back-to-back losses. Playing a revived Cronulla side won’t be easy, let alone how their record has looked in the past few years against the men from the Shire. A gruelling battle will be seen in the middle with back rowers cutting their lines back into the middle with the prop forwards bashing one another, but the finesse seen by the Sharks in the last few games should have them poised for a win at the foot of the mountains, through them being back to full strength and Panthers losing one of their main men in the halves, so Cleary will now have to shoulder the load. It should be another close game with Cronulla winning.

Prediction: Sharks by 10

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