Hetherington shrugs off battle with Fifita in tunnel
Penrith forward Jack Hetherington has shrugged off an incident with Andrew Fifita in the tunnel at half-time of the Panthers-Sharks clash on Friday night.
Fox Sports captured the footage of an angry Fifita shoving Hetherington in the back as both sides walked up the tunnel with the pair going into their separate dressing sheds.
Neither side would talk in-depth about the incident post-game, while Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said he was unaware of the incident when he spoke to reporters.
Fifita left Panthers Stadium early to attend a relative's birthday party.
Hetherington, who has an unhealthy record with the NRL judiciary so far in his short career, was not willing to explain the background to the scuffle.
"I don't know, there was a bit of chat back and forth and he pushed me in the back, that's it," Hetherington said, after the Sharks earned themselves a 24-12 win.
"That's footy, that's what happens ... it's a physical game. The big fella must have got a bit cranky so he pushed me in the back."
Sharks skipper Wade Graham said the moment came as no surprise with a top-four finish in the sights of both clubs and a rich history of rivalry between the two teams. Both clubs entered the first grade competition in 1967.
"There's a lot on the line mate, it's a big game," Graham said.
"Two teams really vying to set their seasons up and keep themselves in top-four contention, so I think it's a good thing to see.
"Each team really cares about how they're playing and they're passionate. They lay it all on the line and sometimes tempers flare a bit, but that's the game."
Meanwhile, Penrith coach Anthony Griffin remains optimistic about the side's push to the 2018 Telstra Premiership finals after his inexperienced team was by no means outclassed by a near full-strength Cronulla Sharks side.
The Panthers fielded the most inexperienced side of the season for the second week running but were chasing their tails for the majority of the 24-12 loss.
"I was proud of that performance, unhappy with that result but the performance was great," Griffin said.
"We kept coming at the game and nearly got our chance to square it up. A couple of their tries came too easy, we didn't execute defensively.
"We don't accept losing or like losing but I thought we won in many ways. We'll learn from that, there's a lot of improvement for us."
The game marks the end of Penrith's battle through the representative season with Origin and injured stars due back next week to face the Broncos.
Griffin indicated James Maloney was a "good chance" of taking his place for the Panthers against the Broncos despite an ankle injury, while Nathan Cleary and Tyrone Peachey will return after being rested.
The side could also be boosted by Josh Mansour, who hasn't played since round six from facial fractures.
"He had a final rehab run today and will join the main group on Monday," Griffin said. "All things going well, he's a good chance next week.
"He's a Test winger, a quality player. The other guys have done a great job but we've got a lot of salary cap still on the sidelines."