The win over Souths has given all at the Sharks hope of a finals charge, however it will count for nothing if they can’t back up that performance with a similar effort on Friday night.
The Sharks moved into the top eight with the victory over the Rabbitohs and leapfrogged Penrith in the process, but they will need to do it all again when they head west to meet the Panthers in a pivotal round 21 clash tomorrow night.
It’s a game matching two teams on the same competition points and separated only by for-and-against, the Sharks seventh and the Panthers ninth, with Cronulla coach John Morris acutely aware of how important this week’s result could turn out to be.
“Given where both sides are on the ladder, I think it goes without saying that it’s a crucial game for both of us,” Morris said. “Penrith at Penrith is a tough assignment, so it shapes as a good battle.”
The win over Souths, with close to a full-strength line up on deck, came after a gritty victory against the Cowboys the week before, with Morris believing the North Queensland game might be one his team reflects on if they can go on a winning run.
“Even though we won the Cowboys game late, I felt there was a turning point in that game and hopefully a turning point in our season,” Morris explained.
“We were down 14-4 with 15 minutes to go and we stayed in the fight, stayed in the fight, trusted in our process and found a way to get a couple of late tries and put them to bed.
“The boys are showing a bit of fight in our performances over the last two weeks have been really good and we’ve just got to go out there and build on what we did against the Rabbits.”
Morris and the Sharks will need to do that building and face the Panthers without the services of fullback Matt Moylan, ruled out due to a concussion suffered in the Souths game, but on the other side of the ledger, the Panthers are missing James Maloney after the former Cronulla premiership-winning five-eighth he was handed a one-match ban for tripping.
Josh Dugan shifts to fullback in place of Moylan, with youngster Matt Burton, in what will be his NRL debut, coming into the Penrith side for Maloney.
They often say games are won in the middle, and no doubt the forwards will play a big part in determining the result, however both teams have potent backlines with an abundance of players possessing try scoring ability.
Dugan, Josh Morris and youngster Bronson Xerri all notched their 10th tries of the 2019 season last Saturday night, while Brent Naden has been equally as potent for the Panthers in recent games, crossing for seven four-pointers in his last seven appearances.
Throw in Shaun Johnson, exciting newcomer Ronaldo Mulitalo and the experienced campaigner Sosaia Feki, against the likes of Josh Mansour, Dean Whare and exciting winger Brian To’o and it could be a game with plenty of points scored.
As for the head to head records, the Sharks travel to Penrith on a seven-match winning streak against the Panthers, that record extending to 12 victories from the last 14 matches between the two and three straight at their opponents home ground.
The two teams have already met in 2019, the Sharks coming out on top by 24-20 in a match where the Panthers led 20-6 with just 18 minutes remaining, three late Cronulla tries turning the result in their favour.
The messages might also be similar in both dressing rooms prior to the game, with ball control set to be a key topic, especially considering the two sides are ranked in the bottom three in the NRL for completions and errors.
The Sharks v Penrith match is scheduled for a 7.50pm kick-off at Panthers Stadium on Friday as the last of three games, with Newtown playing Penrith in the Canterbury Cup at 5.40pm and the Jersey Flegg clash between the Sharks and Panthers getting underway at 4.00pm.
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan EdwardsFullback for Sharks is number 1 Josh Dugan
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Josh MansourWinger for Sharks is number 2 Sosaia Feki
Centre for Panthers is number 20 Stephen CrichtonCentre for Sharks is number 3 Bronson Xerri
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Brent NadenCentre for Sharks is number 4 Josh Morris
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'oWinger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 21 Matt BurtonFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Shaun Johnson
Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan ClearyHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad Townsend
Prop for Panthers is number 8 James TamouProp for Sharks is number 8 Aaron Woods
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Mitchell KennyHooker for Sharks is number 9 Jayden Brailey
Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-HarrisProp for Sharks is number 10 Matt Prior
2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Viliame Kikau2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Liam Martin2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham
Lock for Panthers is number 16 Moses LeotaLock for Sharks is number 13 Paul Gallen
Interchange for Panthers is number 13 Isaah YeoInterchange for Sharks is number 14 Kurt Capewell
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Sione KatoaInterchange for Sharks is number 15 Jack Williams
Interchange for Panthers is number 15 Spencer LeniuInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Andrew Fifita
Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Reagan Campbell-GillardInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Braden Hamlin-Uele