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The Penrith Panthers will be looking to return to the top eight with a win over the Cronulla Sharks this Friday night at Panthers Stadium. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting at 7:55pm AEST.
The Panthers will be fielding a depleted team after Wayde Egan and Jarome Luai were ruled out with injuries and James Maloney was suspended for a trip last weekend, which was upheld at the judiciary on Tuesday.
The welcome appearance of Viliame Kikau will boost their go forward, as he returns from a two week suspension, but the two other inclusions, the underperforming Sione Katoa and rookie Spencer Leniu, will have Panthers fans worried.
Conversely the Sharks only have one change this week, with Matt Moylan out through concussion. Josh Dugan easily slots into the fullback role and Sosia Feki returns to the wing, pushing Josh Morris into the centres.
It remains to be seen if Andrew Fifita will be given more minutes in the first half this week, as his role last week was noticeably diminished after only coming onto the park 26 minutes in and playing a very short 41-minute stint.
Fifita is known to be able to play long minutes, sometimes even the full game, which indicates that this move is in response to his temper tantrums in the last few weeks.
Many commentators have pointed to him as emblematic of the Sharks problems, namely that they simply do not work well as a team and seem to be out of the coach’s control.
This is where the key matchup of the game will occur; right smack bang in the middle of the park. If the Panthers forwards (James Tamou, James Fisher-Harris and Viliame Kikau in particular) can get under the Sharks skin and affect Andrew Fifita and Aaron Woods’ concentration then it will give their new halves pairing easy field position to work with.
However look for the Sharks big men to send a message to the rest of the competition this week and put in a huge performance against one of their closest rivals on the ladder.
The Panthers still struggle to score points and the Sharks have a point to prove in defence. Man of the match performance by Andrew Fifita to carry his team to victory.
Sharks by 4
Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting at 7:55pm AEST.
Kick-off: 7:55pm (AEST)
Venue: Panthers Stadium, Penrith
TV: Live, Channel 9, Fox League 501
Online: Live, Kayo Sports, Foxtel App, Foxtel Now, 9Now, NRL Digital Pass
Betting: Panthers: $2.50 Sharks: $1.52
Overall record: Played 36, Panthers 13, Sharks 22, 1 Draw
Last meeting: Round 6 2019, Cronulla Sharks 24 defeated Penrith Panthers 20 at Pointsbet Stadium, Woolooware
Record at venue: Panthers 6/15, Sharks 9/15
Referees: Grant Atkins, Phil Henderson
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 (c)
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
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