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Panthers v Sharks: Late change for Sharks; Panthers 1-17

The Panthers recovered from concerning back-to-back defeats to stun the Warriors last start, while the Sharks will be feeling refreshed after having the bye.

With a number of players from both squads potentially backing up from Origin III on Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium, this looms as the match of the round.

The home side will also be gunning for revenge after Shane Flanagan's men won a quality round seven encounter 26-22 at Southern Cross Group Stadium back in April.

Key match up: Trent Merrin and Paul Gallen don't play the same position these days, but they are both classic interchangeable forwards who can slot in anywhere in the pack, except of course at hooker. The former NSW Origin teammates are known for not taking a backward step and there will be plenty of feeling every time they lock horns.

For the Panthers to win: Dominate the forward battle. The Cronulla pack are fearsome on their day, with the likes of Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita always keen to lay an early platform in the engine room. James Fisher-Harris, James Tamouand Trent Merrin need to match their enthusiasm and ferocity from the opening set of six.

Panthers v Sharks - Round 18

For the Sharks to win: Provide centre Jesse Ramien with plenty of ball. The youngster has been sensational all year, making tackle busts for fun. He has also scored nine tries in 13 appearances this season.

Panthers stat attack: James Maloney has engaged the line 65 times, more than anyone else in the competition. Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston (62) and Tigers playmaker Luke Brooks (59) are the next best after 17 rounds.

Sharks stat attack: Prop Andrew Fifita (53) is the competition yardstick for offloads, fractionally ahead of Sea Eagles enforcer Marty Taupau (52). Matt Moylan (14) also has the most line-break assists.

And another thing: It may only be July, but this game has a semi-final feel about it. Both teams have genuine title aspirations, and it could be a nail-biter.

Penrith Panthers v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Friday 6pm at Panthers Stadium

Panthers: 1 Caleb Aekins, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Waqa Blake, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 Tyrone May, 7 Jarome Luai, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Sione Katoa, 10 James Tamou, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Isaah Yeo (c), 13 James Fisher-Harris

Interchange: 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Corey Harawira-Naera, 16 Jack Hetherington, 17 Moses Leota

The Panthers will start 1-17 after Liam Martin, Kaide Ellis and Tyrone Peachey were omitted an hour before kick-off. Origin pair James Maloney and Nathan Cleary have been given the week off after a hectic Origin period. Caleb Aekins has been named to debut at fullback for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (hamstring) in the only listed change from last week. 

Sharks: 1 Valentine Holmes, 2 Sione Katoa, 11 Kurt Capewell, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Edrick Lee, 6 Matt Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 18 Scott Sorensen, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Paul Gallen (c)

Interchange: 14 Joseph Paulo, 15 James Segeyaro, 16 Aaron Woods, 17 Jayson Bukuya 

Jesse Ramien is a late withdrawal for the Sharks. Kurt Capewell moves from the second row into the centres and Scott Sorensen goes from the reserves bench into the back row. Ramien and Sosoaia Feki were the two players left out an hour before kick-off. Wade Graham (cheek) returns from injury in the second row pushing Scott Sorensen to the reserves in Cronulla's only change. Ava Seumanufagai and Kyle Flanagan were the two players omitted 24 hours out from kick-off. 


Head-to-head: Played 89; Sharks 48 wins, Bulldogs 38 wins, 3 draws
Previous result: Sharks won 26-22 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round 7
Points per game: Panthers 22; Sharks 19.5
Points conceded per game: Panthers 15.3; Sharks 17.6
Televised: Live on Fox League

Petero Civoniceva's prediction: Penrith will be buoyed by their impressive win over the Warriors last Friday where a number of their young guys stood up and announced themselves as future NRL stars. It should be an absolute cracker, with Cronulla fresh after the bye last weekend and Matt Moylan returning to his old stomping ground. 

TIP: Panthers by 8

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