Round 18 Key Match-Ups

It's only the start of July, but tonight's clash between the Sharks and the Panthers has that finals footy feel about it.

The Panthers hold a narrow 2-point buffer over the Sharks, currently sitting in fourth position on the ladder, with the boys in the black, white and blue looking to stay within reach of that coveted top-four spot heading in to the last seven rounds of competition.

The Sharks have won their past four encounters with the Panthers and nine out of 11 since 2001. They'll be hoping to notch up their 600th win tonight in what will be their 1239th match.

Matt Moylan returns to his old stomping ground for the first time in Sharks colours tonight, hoping to get one over his former club.

Will the Sharks pack dominate tonight? Or will the young Panthers step up to the plate? Either way tonight's match shapes as an absolute cracker.

Let's take a look at some of the key match-ups across the park.

 

Sione Katoa vs Sione Katoa

How could I leave this one out? Strange things happen on Friday the 13th. Another black cat might dash down the sideline of Panthers Stadium tonight, maybe not.

What is guaranteed though is our young gun Sione Katoa will take to the field against, well, Sione Katoa.

Sure, they might not play the same position as one another, but with the same name this match-up is just as intriguing.

Our greased lightning winger leads an exciting crop of young talent at the Sharks and has been slowly building a name for himself in his first season of NRL.

At just 20 years of age Katoa looks set for a long career in the top grade, never overawed by the occasion and with one of the best finishes in the game.

Here's hoping we see him touch down in the corners of Panthers Stadium tonight!

On the other side of the ledger is a 23-year old hooker with 24 NRL games to his name.

Predominantly a hooker, Katoa is also a versatile player capable of playing in the halves or back row.

Last week he showed his skill in the Panthers drubbing of the Warriors, but he'll be up against one of the best packs in the game tonight.

 

Andrew Fifita vs Trent Merrin

Speaking of packs, these two will be out to lead from the front tonight.

Andrew Fifita will be out to dominate the battle up front and lay an early platform for when his replacements take to the field tonight.

The Sharks have an imposing pack and we all know what Fifita is capable of when he busts through a tackle and pops off an offload to a lurking team mate. It's sure to His experience will be somethi

The Panthers pack will need to match the enthusiasm and ferocity of the Sharks from the opening set if they want to keep pace tonight.

One man who knows all too well what the Sharks are like is Trent Merrin.

Merrin has played his fair share of matches against Cronulla in his 195 appearances in the NRL.

A natural leader both on the field and in the sheds, his experience will be something the Panther cubs will draw on tonight if things start slipping away.

 

Chad Townsend vs Jarome Luai

Who will step up and steer their side to victory tonight in Penrith?

Chad Townsend has done exactly what is needed of him week in week out for the Sharks and will be refreshed and ready to go off the back of the bye week.

After an early mistake against the Warriors Townsend became a man on a mission, coming up with some crucial 'one percenters' that helped to swing the game back in to the Sharks favour.

That calmness and direction from Chad will be needed tonight to keep things in order and allow guys like Moylan and Holmes to bring out the flair.

Speaking of flair, rookie Penrith halfback Jarome Luai stole the show last week in his sides victory over the Warriors.

Missing their Origin pairing of Maloney and Clearly, Luai stepped up scoring two tries of his own and setting up another.

At 21-years of age and with only 2 NRL appearances to his name, Luai epitomises the breed of confident young players that are taking the NRL by storm these days.

Will his confidence continue tonight against a side that loves to grind out tough wins? Only time will tell.