Panthers v Sharks: Schick Preview
Schick Hydro Preview: Penrith Panthers v Cronulla Sharks
Two sides tipped to be in finals contention later in the year clash in Round 7 of the NRL Telstra Premiership when the Penrith Panthers play host to the Cronulla Sharks at Pepper Stadium on Sunday.
Anthony Griffin's men will be desperate to bounce back after a narrow loss to the Rabbitohs at home last Friday night, while the Sharks are flying high after victories over Melbourne and Newcastle in recent weeks.
With so much expectation on the young Panthers side, injuries and ill discipline off-field have disrupted the club with only two wins to start the year, but with troops back this week it shapes as the perfect time to step up against the defending premiers.
The Panthers welcome back skipper Matt Moylan and Waqa Blake to the starting line-up in a boost for the home side after a week in the Intrust Super Premiership, while centre Tyrone Peachey has also been named to return for Griffin's outfit after missing a week with a fractured rib.
Kiwi international James Fisher-Harris is another inclusion after overcoming a fractured eye socket while Bryce Cartwright and Peta Hiku have been named in the reserves.
For the Sharks, James Segeyaro will miss the chance to return to Pepper Stadium with scans revealing he suffered a broken arm after starring in the win over the Storm in Melbourne on Sunday. Utility Kurt Capewell replaces the former Panther on the interchange bench.
Penrith will again be out to secure their 500th victory in the club's history after missing out in previous weeks and will face a trio of former players in Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and Jeremy Latimore.
With plenty of representatives set to take the field, there is no better time for the likes of Panthers forwards James Tamou and Trent Merrin to deliver against the monster Sharks pack led by Paul Gallen and his tribe.
Why the Panthers can win: They'll be refreshed after a nine-day turnaround with the Sharks coming off a grueling effort in the grand final rematch and are due to beat a quality side. The return of Moylan will boost the side that was sorely missing his touch of class in the latter stage of the game against the Rabbitohs. And the return of Peachey provides the Panthers with a dominant attacking weapon down the left-edge.
Why the Sharks can win: Shane Flanagan's outfit have remarkably conceded just five tries in their second halves with only Melbourne (two) ranking better after six rounds in a sign their defence is well and truly on song, particularly late in the game despite a lapse against the Knights. Their attack is still a work in progress and the loss of Segeyaro will hurt, but the Sharks still have individuals in the side capable of creating something out of nothing.
 Telstra Premiership: Tyrone Peachey vs Jack Bird
Tries, Tackle Breaks, Line Breaks, Tackles.
The history: Played 87; Sharks 38; Panthers 46; Drawn 3. Despite the Panthers holding an overall lead, the Sharks hold a strong recent record with seven wins from the last nine clashes between the two sides, however five of those fixtures were only decided by four points or less. The Sharks got the chocolates on both occasions in 2016 including a 26-10 win at the Pepper Stadium with State of Origin stars missing from each line-up.
What are the odds: The Panthers opened as favourites, but with 85 per cent of money being wagered on the Sharks, the market has been turned upside down. Sportsbet has received solid backing for the Sharks to win 1-12 and to also cover the line. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Peter Gough; Touch judges: David Ryan and Nick Beashel; Review Officials: Ben Galea and Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 and Fox League – Live from 4.00pm.
NRL.com predicts: Another close encounter awaits for the Panthers, who are going to need to turn those tight losses around by matching it with the Sharks in the middle to have any chance. The defending premiers showed signs of their 2016 dominance against the Storm by grinding out victory and we expect that trend to continue away from home on Sunday, but only by a small margin. Sharks by six.