4.05pm (AEST), Sunday, April 24 at Southern Cross Group Stadium, Sydney
Cronulla Sharks are aiming to consolidate a place inside the top four, while Penrith Panthers need to keep winning if they’re to stay in touch with the NRL’s pacesetters.
Luke Lewis returns to the Sharks’ bench at the expense of Junior Paulo in an otherwise unchanged line-up. The Panthers named the same side that defeated the Roosters on Monday, although Elijah Taylor and Jeremy Latimore have been included on an extended bench, and Sam McKendry’s suspension will see one of them join the game-day interchange contingent.
The clubs have met 85 times, with the Sharks winning 44 and the Panthers 38, and three games drawn. The Sharks hold a 27-15-3 advantage as the home side. Penrith won the club’s only clash in 2015, 26-18 in Round 8.
The Sharks have won four in row, following up a tense 25-20 victory over the Titans at home with a commanding 40-16 away win against the Raiders last weekend.
The Panthers’ run of close games has continued, bouncing back from a gallant 23-18 loss to the high-flying Cowboys with a nail-biting 20-16 defeat of the Roosters in wet weather on Monday night. The Panthers have not won or lost two in a row since the opening two rounds, and are sitting in 10th with a 3-4 record.
Ben Barba has enjoyed a spectacular renaissance for the Sharks in 2016, scoring five tries in the past four rounds in his best run of form since his 2012 Dally M season, in turn cementing the contentious Cronulla fullback spot. Meanwhile, new Penrith captain Matt Moylan has slotted back into the Panthers’ No.1 jumper seamlessly after 10 months on the sidelines.
Stats That Matter
Cronulla have won four of the last six matches between the clubs, including the last two at home. The Sharks are 5-2 against the line in 2016 with a 4-3 over record; the Panthers are 4-3 ATS this year, with a 4-3 under number. Cronulla are 7-3 in their last 10 matches as favourite. The Sharks are 10-6 at home since the start of 2015 (9-7 against the start); the Panthers are a dismal 4-12 away during that period (6-10 ATS). All seven of the Panthers matches in 2016 have been decided by eight points or less.
The Sharks are firming as genuine contenders, combining their trademark relentless defence and ability to revel in the grind with attacking brilliance, courtesy of Holmes, Barba, Bird and Feki out wide, the wily playmakers Maloney and Ennis, and ball-playing forwards Fifita and Graham. The Panthers lack the consistency and ability to close out matches to genuinely challenge for the title, but have proven with wins over the Broncos and Eels they can trouble any side. Staying patient and mixing up their attack – with Cartwright, Moyland, Soward and Te Maire Martin at the forefront – is the key for the visitors. It should be another close one involving the Panthers, but the home side should be able to beat their young opponents into submission. Consider the 1-12 margins and the under total for your best bets.
The Way It’s Shaping
Sharks by 10
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