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NRL Preview - Sharks v Panthers

Two wins from six games, with a couple of key players under an injury cloud, against a team riding high with five victories so far, and Sunday's game shapes as a crucial one for a Sharks team which has experienced a stuttering start to the 2018 season.

No Paul Gallen, no Wade Graham and with Andrew Fifita miraculously named to take his place in the team after looking as if his season was over just a week ago, all adds up to a backs-to-the-wall, character-building challenge for the Sharks in the round seven match-up against the Panthers.

Throw into the mix one a former Shark returns, in arguably what is close to career-best form and its a game not-to-be-missed.

The Sharks medical-staff have worked overtime during the week in trying to get as many of the injured brigade onto the field, with Gallen never a chance and Graham succumbing late in the week to the hamstring issue that saw him limp off the field last Friday.

However on a positive note, Fifita looks good to go, with Luke Lewis also set to take up his regular spot in the Sharks back row.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has mixed things up with his backline, Josh Dugan moves to fullback, Matt Moylan shifts to five eighth, and everything is set up for an intriguing clash between the two clubs who just last year played their 50th season's in the top flight rugby league competition.

While no doubt the Sharks are aware of what the Panthers can do, they are more worried about getting their own house in order.

"We're more focused on what we need to do and what we need to improve," Flanagan said earlier in the week.

But they certainly need a plan for James Maloney, the five eighth in the Shark's team of the Half Century, who returns to Southern Cross Group Stadium for the first time since joining the Panthers during the off-season.

With young gun Nathan Cleary missing due to injury, Maloney has carried the load for the young Panthers side and if anyone knows what he can do, its his former coach and mentor.

"We know he's playing good football at the moment and we know what he's capable of. We've seen it first hand," Flanagan said. "We just need to be good around him and we need to treat him like other halves, make sure he has some work to do and we defend well against him.

"But we need to make sure he doesn't come back here on Sunday and have a day out."

Chirpy and loud on a quiet day, let alone when riding high on confidence as is the case at the moment, Dugan joked earlier in the week that there was likely to be some banter between the former Shark and his ex-teammates.

"He's probably going to give us a bit of stick, but we'll be giving it back to him," Dugan said when quizzed about Maloney and his fast tongue.

But Maloney aside, the Panthers have been on a roll, their attacking game sound and their defence, statistically at least, the best in the NRL through six rounds in 2018.

Trying to break down that defensive wall will be Moylan, himself coming up against his old club, with Dugan determined to make an impact after switching back into the number one jersey.

"I'm looking forward getting back there and getting my hands on the ball," Dugan said. "I'll just do my job and go out there and play the best I can."

With the players unavailable, Flanagan has been forced into some changes for Sunday's game, with Kurt Capewell and Joseph Paulo promoted to the starting side and Scott Sorensen onto the interchange bench where he will make his first appearance in the top grade this year.

Jesse Ramien is the beneficiary of the positional switch of Moylan and Dugan, with the youngster recalled in the centres after four very good performances when given the chance earlier in the season.

Trimming his squad down from the original 21 as named on Tuesday, Flanagan has retained Jack Williams and Braden Uele on the extended bench, with Graham and Trent Hodkinson dropping out. The final 17-man team will be announced one-hour before the 4.00pm kick off.

The Cronulla Caringbah Women's team take on the CRL Newcastle in a NSWRL Women's Premiership match as the curtain-raiser, starting at 2.00pm. Gates to Southern Cross Group Stadium open at 1.45pm.

NRL Team List – round 7

Sharks v Panthers

Sunday, April 22

Southern Cross Group Stadium

Kick off – 4.00pm
1-            Josh Dugan
2-            Edrick Lee
3-            Jesse Ramien
4-            Ricky Leutele
5-            Valentine Holmes
6-            Matt Moylan
7-            Chad Townsend
8-            Andrew Fifita
9-            Jayden Brailey
10-          Matt Prior
11-          Luke Lewis ©
12-          Kurt Capewell
13-          Joseph Paulo
Interchange
14-          Scott Sorensen
15-          James Segeyaro
16-          Ava Seumanufagai
17-          Kurt Dillon
18-          Jack Williams
21-          Braden Uele