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Cronulla Sharks vs Penrith Panthers: The ultra definitive NRL semi-final stats preview

The Panthers are low on troops when they host the Sharks. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)
Expert
14th September, 2018
35
1337 Reads

Any way you look at this match the Panthers have a hill to climb if they are going to beat the Sharks.

These two sides have met 12 times since the beginning of the 2011 season and the Panthers have won just two of them. The last of which was in Round 8, 2015. The Sharks have won the last five straight by an average score of 25-13.

So why is it I think that the Panthers can win?

Wade Graham is a huge out in the context of the Sharks attack and the two times these sides met this year the Panthers were missing either James Maloney or Nathan Cleary. Both will play in this game.

With the exception of Dylan Edwards, the Panthers are pretty much at full strength. But I guess the Sharks are too, except for Graham.

This game is on a knife edge and the key determining factor may just be which team can get more of their supporters to Allianz stadium to cheer them on and pressure the refs.

Defence

Team stats

Stat Sharks Panthers
Line breaks conceded 3.5 (#2 NRL) 4.4 +0.9 Panthers
Missed tackles 24.1 (#5 NRL) 29.7 (#14 NRL) +5.6 Panthers
Tries conceded 2.9 (#3 NRL) 3.1 +0.2 Panthers
Errors 10.6 (11th NRL) 10 +0.6 Sharks
Meters conceded 1367 1287.9 (#2 NRL) +79 Sharks
Penalties conceded 8.5 9.4 (#16 NRL) +0.9 Panthers
Offloads conceded 10.3 (#4 NRL) 8.1 (#1 NRL) +2.2 Sharks
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The Sharks concede a fair few more metres and offloads, but the key stats here I reckon are the Panthers worse stats in regard to line breaks conceded and missed tackles.

Paul Gallen

Paul Gallen and the Sharks. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

In a tightly contested match – which I expect this to be – that may be the crucial difference.

However, the Sharks do have an error in them on occasion. That too could be telling.
It will be also interesting to see if the Panthers can stop Andrew Fifita from offloading.

Individual player stats

Stat Sharks Panthers
Tackles made P. Gallen – 28
J. Bailey – 27.6
A. Fifita – 24.2
A. Woods – 23.8
M. Prior – 23.4
J. Fisher Harris – 30.1
I. Yeo – 28.4
S. Katoa – 26.7
Missed tackles C. Townsend – 3.1
M. Moylan – 3
L. Lewis – 2
K. Capewell – 1.9
J. Maloney – 6.1
R. Campbell- Gillard – 2.7
J. Fisher-Harris – 2.4
Penalties conceded A. Fifita – 1.3
A. Woods – 1
L. Lewis – 0.9
T. Peachey – 1
J. Maloney – 0.9
S. Katoa – 0.8
Errors M. Moylan – 1.4
V. Holmes – 1
C. Townsend – 1
J. Dugan – 1
J. Maloney – 1.6
W. Blake – 1.1
D. Watene-Zelezniak – 1

Paul Gallen has returned to the top of the Sharks’ top tacklers. He’s in good company with some very good defenders there. For mine that cohort has the edge on the Panthers defensive line stalwarts.

Look again at Jimmy Maloney’s misses – not many of those turn into line breaks or tries. Mostly he only stays committed in tackles if necessary as he is trying to conserve energy for attack.

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James Maloney of the Panthers

James Maloney of the Panthers. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

Matt Moylan and Luke Lewis’s misses are far more telling. They’ll be targeted.

There are a few certainties in life: Death, Taxes, Andrew Fifita conceding penalties. Tyrone Peachey most probably will too.

The errors are mostly positive attacking ones for both sides as they chance their arms.

Attack

Team stats

Stat Sharks Panthers
Line breaks 5 (#2 NRL) 4.7 +0.3 Sharks
Tackle breaks 25.5 29.1 +3.6 Panthers
Tries scored 3.6 3.4 +0.2 Sharks
Meters made 1411 (#5 NRL) 1393 +18 Sharks
Penalties received 8.4 8.9 (#2 NRL) +0.5 Panthers
Offloads 11.5 (#3 NRL) 10.9 +0.6 Sharks

There is so little separating the two sides in attack. The Panthers get slightly more penalties and break slightly more tackles, but the Sharks score slightly more points, as well as offloading and breaking the line more.

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However, these stats are almost inseperable.

Individual player stats

Stat Sharks Panthers
Tackle breaks A. Fifita – 3.4
V. Holmes – 3.3
J. Dugan – 3.1
S. Katoa – 3
W. Blake – 4.1
V. Kikau – 3.3
T. Peachey – 3.2
J. Mansour – 3
N. Cleary – 2.6
D. Watene-Zelezniak – 2.6
Line breaks V. Holmes – 1.1
E. Lee – 0.8
S. Feki – 0.8
W. Blake – 0.6
D. Watene-Zelezniak – 0.5
T. Peachey – 0.4
J. Mansour – 0.4
V. Kikau – 0.4
Metres gained V. Holmes – 146
P. Gallen – 131
A. Woods – 126
A. Fifita – 126
J. Mansour – 139
D. Watene-Zelezniak – 127
V. Kikau – 121
I. Yeo – 107
Tries scored V. Holmes – 21
E. Lee – 11
S. Feki – 7
W. Blake – 12
T. Peachey – 11
J. Mansour – 8
Try assists M. Moylan – 16
C. Townsend – 15
V. Holmes – 9
J. Segeyaro – 9
J. Maloney – 14
N. Cleary – 11
T. Peachey – 6
Line break assists M. Moylan – 21
W. Graham – 11
C. Townsend – 10
V. Holmes – 8
J. Maloney – 14
N. Cleary – 13
V. Kikau – 8
T. Peachey – 8
Offloads A. Fifita – 2.9
A. Woods – 1.4
W. Graham – 1.2
J. Dugan – 1.1
V. Kikau – 1.7
T. Merrin – 1.1
T. May – 0.9

Look at Waqa Blake’s tackle breaks, line breaks and tries scored. Ricky Leutele will have his hands full.

Both sides have so many regular tackle breakers, we can expect some fantastic running at the line and big collisions in this game.

Valentine Holmes probably can’t be stopped, but can his effect be limited? He is by far and away the Sharks main way to the try line.

Josh Mansour must weave his magic for the Panthers to offset the Holmes effect, and he can.

Penrith Panther's Josh Mansour

Josh Mansour (Photo: nrlphotos.com)

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Note that three of the Sharks’ main metres eaters are big forwards, while three of the Panthers four biggest metre gainers are backs. That shows a distinctly different style to their play.

It’ll be interesting to see if James Segeyaro can add his try assisting X-Factor in this game. It could be a telling difference.

As usual, Fifita’s damage when running the ball and offloading must be minimised.

The Danger Men

Andrew Fifita
The Roosters made Andrew Fifita make 37 tackles last week and he still had the energy to make 14 runs for 130 metres, and five tackle breaks. He could bust this game wide open – if Coach Flanagan winds him up of course!

Valentine Holmes
323 metres. That’s right. You heard correctly: 323 metres. That’s what Valentine Holmes made himself last weekend against the Roosters. The Panthers can’t allow that to occur or they’ll get flogged. Problem is how will they stop him?

Valentine Holmes

Valentine Holmes of the Sharks. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Paul Gallen
When Gallen threw the gauntlet down to James Maloney he was declaring that he was fully up for this contest. He was awfully good last week, making 121 metres from 13 runs, while making 50 – yes 50 – tackles. Not bad for an octogenarian! Expect him to produce again.

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Matt Moylan
Moylan has played against his old club twice in 2018 for two wins. He’ll want to make it three. He’s a special player. But can he produce the goods this time?

James Maloney
Well didn’t Paul Gallen open up Pandora’s Box by slagging off Jimmy Maloney and his lacklustre 2017 for the Sharks, as well as his pursuit for more cash. While he is a chronic missed tackler, you just know that he’s going to want to shove it right up his ex-captain on Friday night. Jimmy is the sort of guy who really can too.

Josh Mansour
Last week ‘The Sauce’ made 180 metres from 21 runs. He gets the Panthers in great position all the time. He’ll do it again against the Sharks.

Nathan Cleary
This is the first time this season that the Sharks will have to face a Panthers side with both their halves playing. Cleary will probably be more of a handful with Maloney on the field. And the son of Ivan is due a special game.

Nathan Cleary

Nathan Cleary of the Panthers (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Waqa Blake
I like this bloke. He flies under the radar a bit but he is a real handful. He loves busting tackles. I reckon he could do well in this game.

The History

The Sharks overall record
This will be the Sharks 1349th competition game. They have won 647 of them (48 per cent)
In the NRL era the Sharks have played 530 games and won 263 of them (49.7 per cent).

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The Panthers overall record
This will be the Panthers 1326th match in this competition and its predecessors. They’ve won 598 of them (45 per cent). In the NRL era they have won 253 of their 524 games (48.2 per cent).

Between these sides
This will be the 91st time these sides have played each other in the premiership, going back to June 4th, 1967. On that occasion the Panthers beat the Sharks 13-10 at Sutherland Oval.

The Sharks have won 48 of the games (53.33 per cent).

The last ten
As above, the Sharks have won 10 of the last 12 of the matches between the sides, including the last five straight, and both games this year.

At this venue
This is the first time that these two sides have met at Allianz Stadium.
The Sharks have played 56 games at this stadium, winning 28 of them (50 per cent). After winning five in a row here, they’ve then lost the last two.

That includes last week’s game.

The Panthers have played 43 games at this venue, winning 21 of them (48.3 per cent). They’ve won the last three finals that they’ve played here.

Finals
Would you believe that this is the first ever finals match between these two sides in the 52 seasons that they’ve been playing each other!? What are the odds of that?

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Josh Dugan Sharks.

Josh Dugan of the Sharks. (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)

Form
The Sharks have won seven of their last eleven games. They had a poor start to 2018, winning just two game of their first six and languishing in 13th spot.

Then they went on a bit of a run and got themselves up to fourth spot by round 12. That was the ladder position they managed to finish in after some tribulations, only losing five games out of their last 19.

The Sharks have played 12 games against the other finalists this season – including last week’s loss to the Roosters – winning five and losing seven. However, two of those five wins were against the Panthers.

The Panthers haven’t been out of the top eight this year. In fact, the lowest ladder position they held was sixth, the spot they qualified for the finals in. After Round 12 they were top of the ladder. They’ve won five of their last seven games.

Of the Panthers 25 games so far this year they have only played other top eight sides ten times, including last weekend’s final win over the Warriors. They’ve only beaten top four sides twice this season: The Bunnies in Round 2 and a badly weakened Storm side in the last round.

Referees: Ashley Klein, Adam Gee

This combination has never run a match between these sides together before.

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Ash Klein has done one game between these two sides. In Round 5 2012 the Sharks beat the Panthers 15-14 at Panther Park.

Klein has controlled 32 Sharks games, with the boys from the shire only winning 14 of them (43.75 per cent). The Panthers have only won seven of the 25 games that Klein has controlled (28 per cent).

Adam Gee has never run a game between these two sides.

Gee has controlled 18 Sharks games in his career with the Sharks winning 10 of them (55.5 per cent).

Gee has refereed 14 Panthers games during his career. The Panthers have only won four of them (28.6 per cent).

These figures look pretty ordinary for the Panthers.

Finals
Ashley Klein has not run a finals match involving the Panthers. However, he has run three Sharks finals matches, with the lads for the Shire only winning one of them. His handling of the Sharks loss to the Cowboys in last year’s qualifying final provoked the ire of Coach Shane Flanagan.

Adam Gee has not run a finals match featuring the Sharks. He has controlled two Panthers finals games, both were in 2017 for one win and one loss.

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Who is going to win and why

Statistically predicted score: Sharks 20.4 – Panthers 19.6

As the statistically predicted score suggests, this game has little in it.

I’m going with the Panthers simply because of the Wade Graham absence and nothing more.

I reckon this match will be decided by two points one way or the other and Graham’s absence may be telling.

However, I won’t be betting on this game as it really could go either way.

I’m expecting a cracker of a match.

Prediction: Panthers 1-12

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