The Sharks head West to take on the Panthers on Sunday afternoon, in what promises to be a hotly-contested Round 18 affair at the foot of the mountains.
While hopeful of extending their winning run to 13-consecutive matches, the Sharks will aim up for the clash, missing five stars on Blues duties – not least Captain Paul Gallen, and regular stand-in skipper Wade Graham.
With the pair absent from their Sharks post, Michael Ennis is handed the ‘C’ next to his name for the first time since signing with the Club ahead of the 2015 season.
That change is far from the only one for Shane Flanagan’s line up, which welcomes two Club debutants in Jesse Sene-Lefao and Matt McIlwrick, and a first-time NRL player in Kurt Capewell also.
“We’ve only used 19 (players) all year, and those boys have been training really hard waiting for their opportunity,” Flanagan said on Friday.
“I’m really excited for those players … Definitely not (will the side use it as an excuse)… We expect to go out there and win.”
Penrith meanwhile will miss their regular skipper in Matt Moylan also, as well as winger Josh Mansour who join the five Sharks in the NSW camp.
Flanagan though was quick to dismiss calls that the Panthers would be any less prepared for Sunday’s match, in saying the men from out West have plenty to play for.
“After last week’s loss, they’re at a point where they have to start stringing some wins together,” Flanagan said.
Key Match-up: Chad Townsend v Nathan Cleary
Without regular halves partner James Maloney by his side, much of the responsibility of seeing the side to a win falls at the feet of the Sharks number ‘7’, Chad Townsend.
Touted as a possible Blues half when South Sydney’s incumbent Adam Reynolds was ruled out injured, Townsend’s early-season form has surprised most upon his return to the Shire.
Townsend’s ‘mature’ approach to the game will be again tested as he takes the reins on Sunday afternoon, and his performance will no doubt set the tone for the end result for the side come the end of the 80 minutes.
His opposite number though, Penrith’s young-gun Nathan Cleary, will be out to build on the promise shown to start his NRL career.
With two tries inside his four starts to date, Cleary has been a breath of fresh air in the Penrith halves, having formed an exciting and dangerous combination with fellow young talent Bryce Cartwright.
Head to Head: Panthers ($1.55), Sharks ($2.52)
Line: Panthers -4.5 ($1.94), Sharks +4.5 ($1.90)
First Try Scorer: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak ($9), Valentine Holmes ($9.50), Bryce Cartwright ($15)
*Odds quoted 16:00, 07//07/2016. For current odds, click HERE
Last Time We Met: Sharks 20 def. Panthers 18 @ Southern Cross Group Stadium
Last Five Meetings:
- Round 8, 2016: Sharks 20 def. Panthers 18 @ Southern Cross Group Stadium
- Round 8 2015: Panthers 26 def. Sharks 18 @ Pepper Stadium
- Round 20, 2014: Sharks 18 def. Panthers 16 @ Carrington Park, Bathurst.
- Round 8 2014: Sharks 24 def. Panthers 20 @ Remondis Stadium
- Round 20, 2013: Sharks 38 def. Panthers 10 @ Remondis Stadium