Todd Warren previews Panthers vs Sharks in a top eight clash but with both teams coming off close wins against bottom eight teams.
Nine wins in a row is the Panthers longest winning streak in the history of the club. The last time they got eight in a row was in 2003 when they won the premiership. Last week was a 18-12 win over the Warriors in very tough conditions, and that was their closest game in their current win streak.
The Sharks have won seven of the last 10 with a 12 point win over the Titans last week. That win over the Titans should sound some alarm bells for Sharks fans with the Titans only having one fit player on the bench as well as having only 12 players on the field after Kevin Proctor was sent off for biting Shaun Johnson.
The league leaders are unchanged from the team that beat the Warriors last week. Brian To’o is named on the extended bench and is a chance to play, but with the Panthers on a nine game winning streak it might be a stretch to make any team changes. If he plays, I’d expect Tyrone May to drop back to the bench and To’o to slot into the starting side.
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone May 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brett Naden 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou (c) 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Daine Laurie 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Moses Leota 17. Zane Tetevano 18. Mitch Kenny 19. Brian To’o 20. Matt Burton 21. Billy Burns
Sharks are also unchanged after their win over the Titans last week. Josh Dugan surprisingly went off injured during the game but has been named to play. Briton Nikora is once again on the extended bench.
1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Siosifa Talakai 12. Wade Graham (c) 13. Toby Rudolf 14. Connor Tracey 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Jack Williams 17. Royce Hunt 18. Teig Wilton 19. Briton Nikora 20. Braydon Trindall 21. Bryson Goodwin
Penrith thumped Cronulla 56-24 back in round nine in the game where Charlie Staines scored four tries on debut. The Sharks have conceded the first try in the last three games against the Panthers as well as conceding at least 14 first half points. Cronulla have lost all three games against teams higher on the table than them this season. The last six games between these two teams have had an average of 49 total points.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Nathan Cleary vs Shaun Johnson
Both have been sensational this season. Cleary leads the NRL in 40/20s, kick metres and is equal first in field goals. He sits fourth in total points scored, fourth in goals kicked, fourth in line engagements and second in total kicks.
Johnson leads the league in try assists and line engagements, is equal second in goals, fifth in total points and fourth in linebreak assists.
The Panthers are hot right now and leading the comp for a reason, whereas the Sharks are yet to beat anyone above them on the ladder. Last week against the Gold Coast was worrying signs as they should have won that game by 30 points, not 12. I expect another masterclass from Nathan Cleary and a big win to stay top of the ladder.
Panthers by 22.
Date: Friday August 21
Venue: Panthers Stadium, Penrith