Sharks v Penrith
The mountains meet the sea on Saturday afternoon in the Shire with the Sharks desperate to kick-start some momentum against a Panthers side humming along nicely - albeit seemingly on just four cylinders.
The Panthers have done reasonably well so far in 2014. Kicking off the season with four wins and three losses, Penrith will be looking to solidify their spot in the top eight. Their two-point win over last week's competition leaders the Gold Coast Titans was further evidence of their thriving under the direction of Jamie Soward and new co-captain Peter Wallace.
Meanwhile, by comparison, Cronulla's start is enough to bring an uncomfortable blush to the cheeks of their fans. Their solitary win over fellow cellar dwellers the Warriors has them sitting on the bottom rung of the premiership ladder. With the cavalry slowly returning - although the likes of Luke Lewis and Anthony Tupou are still to play a game in 2014 - the Sharks managed to push the Roosters to their limits last weekend. Hence, the Panthers should be wary.
In team changes, Chris Heighington has again been named to start for the Sharks in place of Tinirau Arona, but don't be surprised if they again switch on game day as they have for the past few weeks. Beau Ryan has also been named on an extended bench for his first possible start of the year, while hooker Issac De Gois returns from a leg complaint, taking over from Michael Lichaa. The Panthers are unchanged from last Monday. Adam Docker is a suspension concern, with Matt Robinson on standby.
Watch Out Sharks: Jamal Idris has taken to Penrith like a moth takes to light. With the sunny Gold Coast in the rear view mirror, the 23-year-old centre in six games has progressively built towards bigger and better things. With Cronulla's right edge involving the likes of Carney and Ayshford, typically proving weak defensively so far in 2014, Idris will be a key for the Panthers. Cronulla need to be wary of his offloads (11 so far) and running game (he's averaging 154 metres).
The Sharks will have to tread carefully if the game comes down to a grind. Last weekend, the Panthers managed to concede a mammoth 11 penalties as well as eight errors in their match with the Titans - and still pulled off a win.
Watch Out Penrith: Penrith will have their eyes on one man this weekend: Paul Gallen. The Cronulla and NSW captain played his first full game of the season last week after recovering from a syndesmosis injury sustained in Round 1. Against the Roosters he made three offloads, 32 tackles and made 19 runs for 140 metre, two line break assists and six tackle breaks. Not bad for a man who is reportedly not 100 per cent fit.
With their captain in tow, the Sharks' discipline was very much improved and perhaps even solid as a rock. With only two penalties and six errors to their name, the Sharks somehow let the game go begging when it came to capitalising on their opportunities. Lightning won't strike twice in the shire this weekend.
Plays To Watch: Last week, Sharks winger Jonathan Wright demonstrated how damaging a quick 20-metre tap can be. Off the tap, Wright headed straight towards the left sideline, passing off to centre Ricky Leutele before he in turn sent Sosaia Feki down the sideline from halfway for a marvellous four-pointer.
The Panthers punished the Titans early last Monday night, all thanks to their new halves partnership in Soward and Wallace. In a swift backline movement involving three decoys from left to right, Elijah Taylor kicked off proceedings before passing to Wallace who in turn handed it off to Soward who put Dean Whare through a gaping hole on the diagonal. The Panthers never lost the lead from that point.
Where It Will Be Won:
Consistency. In their games last week, discipline and ball handling were not reflective of how each of these teams ended up - something of a rarity in the NRL. Penrith and Cronulla need to find a balance if they're any chance of snaring the two competition points.
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The History: Played 92; Sharks 47, Panthers 42, drawn 3. The past 10 times these sides have met, the points have been split right down the middle – and that trend has almost been replicated in an overall sense. The last time they met, the Sharks gave the Mountain Men a hiding, recording a 38-10 victory in Round 20 last year at Remondis Stadium.
What Are The Odds: This one looks close on paper but again the punters don’t agree, with only a handful of bets at Sportsbet.com.au coming for the Sharks ($1.81) and the majority of money coming for the Panthers ($2.00).
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Adam Devcich; Touch Judges – Adam Reid & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 3pm.
The Way We See It: The short turnaround is not ideal for the Panthers. Few teams have managed to back-up from Monday night football with a victory in 2014 so the ball is in the Sharks' court to turn their season around. With Paul Gallen back and Cronulla preparing with a full week's recovery, we're opting for an upset in the Shire. Cronulla by four points.