Key Match-ups – Sharks vs Panthers
Fullbacks – Valentine Holmes v Matt Moylan
The speed and nous of Sharks winger-turn-fullback Valentine Holmes has impressed the Rugby League world, despite having played only 12 games in the top grade.
Handed his preferred number one jersey as of Round five against the Roosters, Holmes has provided a spark in the Sharks’ attack, which has helped the side in recording three successive wins.
Still spending time on the flank as Coach Flanagan manages the “evolving” dynamics of the squad, Holmes has enjoyed plenty of open space with right centre Gerard Beale providing the most line break assists (5) for the club.
But if Holmes and the Sharks are to make it four on the trot, the 19-year-old will have to get the better of his opposite number – NSW Blues hopeful, Matt Moylan.
Despite the Panthers not yet replicating their stellar form of 2014, Moylan has been a shining light at the back for Penrith.
The 23-year-old City Origin representative leads the NRL in line break assists (9) and try assists (9), while kicking goals at a handy 66% in Jamie Soward’s absence.
Holmes has also taken on the kicking duties in recent weeks, and turning four points into six could prove crucial in what looks likely a close encounter.
Five-Eighths – Jack Bird v Apisai Koroisau
Sunday’s clash will be only the fourth time that both Jack Bird and Apisai Koroisau have played five-eighth in the NRL.
Bird was a standout in his first game in the six jersey, scoring two tries and laying on another as the Sharks upset the Roosters 20-12 in Round 5.
Backing up the effort with strong outings against Newcastle and South Sydney respectively, Bird again looms as a key figure in the clash with the Panthers.
Koroisau meanwhile has had mixed performances since his move into the halves from the hooking role.
Penrith have lost two of their last three matches with Koroisau at five-eighth, so the Fijian international will be looking to bounce back with an impressive outing against Cronulla.
Hookers – Michael Ennis v James Segeyaro
It comes as no surprise that the Sharks’ resurgence in recent weeks has coincided with the improved showings of experienced hooker, Michael Ennis.
Ennis’ kicking game out of acting-half has proved not only effective in getting the side into good territory, but also in laying on tries for his outside men.
In atrocious conditions against Souths on Monday, Ennis’ kick metres totalled 323m, his grubbers providing scoring opportunities for Luke Lewis and Jayson Bukuya also. Ennis leads the team for most try assists, with four to his credit.
With his tackle effectiveness near on 95%, Ennis’ defence in the middle-third will again be tested by his opposite number – Penrith’s speedy number nine, James Segeyaro.
The 2014 Dally M Hooker of the Year has broken the line five times inside the opening seven rounds of the 2015 competition, having crossed the try line on three occasions.
With 13 offloads to his name, Segeyaro remains a potent threat in the Panthers’ 17, and Ennis will be out to tame the PNG star.
Kick off in the Sharks vs Panthers clash is scheduled for 2pm, Sunday 26 April.
The Cronulla Sharks encourage all members and fans to travel to Pepper Stadium to support the team! If you’re unable to make it to Penrith for the clash, you can watch the game live and loud at the Locker Room Bar at Sharkies Leagues Club.