While the Sharks have battled through the last month, this weekend’s opponents the Panthers with their victory over Manly in Bathurst on Saturday managed to extend an impressive NRL record with their 23rd straight regular season win.
The Panthers are also on a club record 13 game winning streak in Penrith, their last loss coming against the Raiders way back in round 19 of the 2019 season.
It goes without saying therefore, that the Sharks have their work cut out tomorrow night, however it is a challenge the team is embracing.
“It’s going to be a challenge, a big challenge,” Sharks skipper Wade Graham expressed at a mid-week media call. “They are the best team in the NRL by far at the moment. They’re young, they’re confident, all on the same page and they keep grinding out the victories. We’re going to need to be at our best if we want to beat them.
“But we’re doing our homework and we’re trying to put ourselves in the best place to play well and to get a result. We’re preparing well, the best way we know we can.
“We’ll get up there and give it our best shot,” Graham added.
And following a fourth consecutive defeat, a win over the competition leaders is certainly needed by a Sharks team reeling with a lengthening injury list no helping their cause.
Sharks coach Josh Hannay, while mindful of how well this week’s opponents are travelling, is trying to focus on what his team can deliver, which he hopes is an 80-minute performance.
“I get it they are the red-hot favourites, and so they should be. But we don’t talk about external expectation,” Hannay said. “Our game is showing we can match it, my focus is to get that performance for 80 minutes.
“I thought against Melbourne our opening 40 was strong, a true reflection of how we prepared. Unfortunately, when the pressure came in the second half, we went away from what had worked for us.
“(Against Penrith) we need to start well and get into the contest,” Hannay reasoned.
In team news, Braden Hamlin-Uele added to the senior Sharks currently sidelined after he underwent surgery for a syndesmosis ankle injury, although in a positive, Hanny spoke of the prospect of Matt Moylan being fit to take his place in the 17-man squad.
Hannay however was guarded in explaining where and how he intended to use the talented playmaker in tomorrow night’s game.
Will Chambers is set to run out for his second game in Sharks colours, where he will partner Jesse Ramien in the centres. Ramien missed the Storm match with a glute strain.
When looking at the head-to-head record, it shows the Sharks as having a slight advantage. In 95 games played since the two teams entered the elite level NSWRL competition back in 1967, the Sharks have recorded 51 wins, to 41 by the Panthers, with three draws.
Penrith has won the past three matches, with the Panthers coming out on top by 56-24 the last time the two teams met.
Panthers junior now Sharks club captain, Wade Graham, will play his 213th match for Cronulla, which moves him past Danny Lee and into outright sixth place on the Sharks all-time matches list.
Graham made his NRL debut for Penrith in 2008, playing 42 games for the club before joining Cronulla in 2011.
If he takes to the field, another former Panther in Moylan will play his 50th game for Cronulla. Moylan made his NRL debut for Penrith in 2013, playing 89 matches over five seasons.
The Sharks and Panthers clash is scheduled for a 6.00pm kick-off at Penrith on Friday night.
The two 19-man squads are listed below.
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan EdwardsFullback for Sharks is number 1 William Kennedy
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Charlie StainesWinger for Sharks is number 2 Mawene Hiroti
Centre for Panthers is number 3 Stephen CrichtonCentre for Sharks is number 3 Will Chambers
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Matt BurtonCentre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse Ramien
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'oWinger for Sharks is number 5 Connor Tracey
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Jarome LuaiFive-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 Moses LeotaProp for Sharks is number 8 Aiden Tolman
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Apisai KoroisauHooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke Brailey
Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-HarrisProp for Sharks is number 10 Aaron Woods
2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Viliame Kikau2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Kurt Capewell2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham
Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah YeoLock for Sharks is number 13 Toby Rudolf
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Tyrone MayInterchange for Sharks is number 15 Teig Wilton
Interchange for Panthers is number 16 Matthew EisenhuthInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Jack Williams
Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Liam MartinInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Billy Magoulias
Interchange for Panthers is number 18 Scott SorensenInterchange for Sharks is number 18 Matt Moylan
Reserve for Panthers is number 19 J'maine HopgoodReserve for Sharks is number 19 Josh Dugan
- Referee: Chris Butler
- Touch Judge: Jon Stone
- Touch Judge: Drew Oultram
- Senior Review Official: Matt Noyen