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Sharks v Panthers: Fifita, Lewis to play; Hetherington to debut

Rocked by a heavy injury toll in last week's 40-20 loss to the Dragons, the Sharks will have their depth tested over the coming weeks.

The 2016 premiers have won just two games and are under pressure to prove that pre-season polls which had them finishing in the top eight (some said top four) were on the money.

The Sharks are banking on high-priced off-season recruits Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan to start living up to expectations.

Penrith halfback James Maloney has led the way for the in-form Panthers (5-1) in the absence of injured young gun Nathan Cleary. Maloney spent two years with Cronulla and will be relishing his first game against his former team.

Key match-up: Chad Townsend simply has to out-point former teammate Maloney if the Sharks are going to prevail, especially with so many injured comrades on the sideline. Maloney has been the driving force for Penrith (5-1) in Cleary's absence and the Panthers might struggle if their experienced field general is over-shadowed by Townsend.

For the Sharks to win: It's a tough ask for a team that was already out of sorts and now has to battle without some of their best players. If the Sharks get special efforts from the new faces in the team and take-charge performances from Moylan and Dugan, they could cause a boilover.

For the Panthers to win: Even when they don't start well (which has often been the case this year) the Panthers still find ways to win. It's a safe bet that Maloney will come in for frequent attention from his former teammates and Penrith will need players like Trent Merrin, Peter Wallace and Tyrone Peachey to pick up the slack.

Sharks stat attack: The Panthers, particularly Maloney, better be careful with their ball movement in the backline. Sharks winger Ricky Leutele leads the NRL in intercepts (3) and will be looking to swoop on anything loose. Cronulla has five intercepts in total to also lead the teams category.

Panthers stat attack: Penrith have lost six of their past seven meetings with Cronulla and not won on the Sharks' home ground since 2012. If they beat the Sharks it will be the Panthers' best start to a season in 19 years.

And another thing: Maloney is the quintessential rugby league journeyman, playing with five clubs during his 10-year career. Staring with Melbourne in 2009, he has spent time with the Warriors, Roosters, Sharks and now Panthers. He is somewhat of a lucky charm, winning premierships with the Roosters (2013) and Sharks (2016).

Prediction: Panthers by 8

Cronulla Sharks v Penrith Panthers, 4.10pm Sunday at Southern Cross Group Stadium

Sharks: 1 Josh Dugan, 2 Edrick Lee, 3 Jesse Ramien, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Valentine Holmes, 6 Matt Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Luke Lewis (c), 14 Scott Sorensen, 13 Joseph Paulo

Interchange: 12 Kurt Capewell, 15 James Segeyaro, 16 Avagalu Seumanufagai, 17 Kurt Dillion

Andrew Fifita and Luke Lewis will play against the Panthers despite suffering injuries last week. Cronulla have lost co-captains Paul Gallen (knee) and Wade Graham (hamstring). In a late change, Scott Sorensen will start with Luke Capewell dropping back to the bench. Jack Williams and Braden Uele were dropped from the squad an hour before kick-off. James Segeyaro is the new names on the bench. The fullback merry-go-round continues with Josh Dugan taking over once again, pushing Matt Moylan to the halves. Trent Hodkinson and Graham were officially omitted from the squad on Saturday.

Panthers: 1 Dylan Edwards, 2 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 3 Corey Harawira-Naera, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Christian Crichton, 6 Tyrone Peachey, 7 James Maloney, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Peter Wallace (c), 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 James Fisher-Harris

Interchange: 14 Sione Katoa, 16 Moses Leota, 17 James Tamou, 21 Jack Hetherington

Kaide Ellis and Thomas Eisenhuth were the two players dropped from the bench an hour before kick-off. Penrith have named Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to return early from a broken jaw in place of winger Josh Mansour (broken cheekbone). Corey Harawira-Naera replaces fellow back-rower Isaah Yeo in the centres with Yeo returning to the pack. Coach Anthony Griffin cut Wayde Egan and Nick Lui-Toso from the reserves on Saturday.

Head-to-head: Played 88; Sharks 47 wins; Panthers 38 wins; 3 draws

Matches at venue: Played 44; Sharks 27 wins; Panthers 14 wins; 3 draws

2017 result: Sharks won 28-2 at Panthers Stadium in round 7

Points per game: Sharks 14.7; Panthers 23.3

Points conceded per game: Sharks 19.3; Panthers 13.3

Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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