Five Key Points - Sharks v  Panthers

What were the game changes, the big moments, the key points to come from the thrilling Sharks win over Panthers. Here’s what we thought 

1 The No 7 muscles up
He copped one for his troubles, but Chad Townsend getting physical in defence during the early stages of the second half was a crucial play in the win over the Panthers. 

With all the momentum with the visitors, Townsend pressured dummy half Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, putting a shot on the winger just moments after passing. 

The tackle drew a reaction from Malakai’s brother Dallin, who in turn knocked Townsend over illegally, which resulted in the two teams coming together for a little push and shove and the referees blowing a penalty against the Panthers. 

The Sharks didn't score immediately after but the mood had shifted and it wasn't long until the Bronson Xerri try ignited PointsBet Stadium, not to mention his Cronulla teammates, who would mount a memorable second half comeback. 

In his post-game address the coach highlighted  the Townsend effort and his number seven muscling up as a major game changer. It would be hard to argue with his assessment. 

 

2. The first of many
We all wanted him to see some open space and finally, in his third NRL game Bronson Xerri had some clear green grass in front of him. Everyone who saw it will remember what happened next. 

Debutant Will Kennedy passed to Josh Dugan, who sensed an opportunity and put Xerri away, with the 18-year-old centre displaying scorching pace, evading the cover, then going up a gear to run around the Panthers fullback for his first NRL try. 

Without putting labels on the youngster, those old enough to recall how Andrew Ettingshausen glided over the Shark Park turf will have seen some of the great ET in the way Xerri moves. 

He sized up Watene-Zelzniak then put on that ET-style in-and-away and he was gone. 

Xerri has a long way to go, about 325 NRL games, something like 30 Origins and about the same number of Test matches, to be mentioned in the same breath as the great ET, but the last three weeks, especially after what occurred Thursday night, have been an outstanding start. 

Lets hope that try is the first of many for the talented teenager. 

 

3. Big brother rules
It was positive news for Sharks fans that local product Blayke Brailey signed on for another three year term prior to the game against the Panthers on Thursday. 

A player of immense promise, the young Brailey has a big future in the game and Sharks fans should be excited about what the next few years will bring. 

But all that being said, how good is big brother Jayden going in the Sharks number nine jersey at present? 

Jayden has found a running game, his darts from dummy half have been incisive over the last three weeks, while he makes all his tackles with rarely a miss. 

He made 62 with no misses in the loss to the Roosters, another 27 and again with zero missed tackles in the win over the Panthers in just 57-minutes of game time. 

Young brother has a big future, but Jayden, still only 23 yet with over 50-games of NRL experience already, appears to still be the man for the moment and if recent performances are anything to go by he won’t be handing over that number nine jersey without a fight. 

 

4. Strong start for Shark 530
There’s not much of him, the Bathurst boy tipping the scales at about 80kgs, however debutant Will Kennedy handled the physicality and the rough and tumble of the NRL in a strong first-up performance. 

Kennedy was brave at the back, diving head first into a sea of feet to claim a grubber kick early on, while chiming in when necessary throughout the night in showcasing his passing and running ability. 

While he might not carry the football back into the defence with the same impact as a Josh Dugan, Kennedy brought a different dynamic to the fullback role, his style of play something similar to that of the injured Matt Moylan. 

Without being a mind-reader, it’s hard to predict what coach John Morris is thinking as to his preferred option in the number one jersey while waiting for Moylan to return, however the debut from Kennedy has certainly made him a viable and attractive option. 

The young guns have all stood up in 2019, with Briton Nikora a revelation, the 18-year-old Xerri is an exciting prospect, with Blayke Brailey in his limited opportunities showing he too has a future. 

Then there is Kennedy, and it was a strong start for Shark 530.  

 

5. The streak continues
For a long time on Thursday night it appeared the streak would be over, only for an exciting comeback from the Sharks that saw them record their seventh win in a row against the Panthers. 

Three wins over Penrith in 2018, including the 21-20 victory in their sudden-death semi-final, one in 2017 and two more in 2016, had the Sharks coming into the game his week on the back of an impressive run of victories against a traditionally difficult opponent. 

The popular opinion was the result was too hard to predict. Two sides desperate for a win, the Sharks coming in somewhat battered and hampered by injury, the Panthers below their best but dangerous if they could rediscover their winning formula. 

And that’s the way it panned out. The Panthers looked home, with everyone who tipped them seemingly an expert, until the frantic Sharks finish saw the home side comeback twice from 14-point deficits in claiming a valuable victory. 

Its probably too early to call it a Cronulla hoodoo for the Panthers, but by whatever name the steak continues for the Sharks.