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Sharks v Panthers: Ramien, Capewell starting; Penrith unchanged

When James Maloney and Matt Moylan switched teams last summer, the prospect of the pair squaring off in a sudden-death final was a script writer's dream.

That dream has been realised, with the Panthers and Sharks meeting this Friday night at Allianz Stadium for the right to take on Melbourne in a preliminary final.

Maloney has produced some stellar performances for the both the Panthers and NSW during 2018, taking control of a team that has gone through plenty of highs and lows.

His presence has provided young halfback Nathan Cleary with the opportunity to focus on his own game.

The Sharks will have to make do without talented forward Wade Graham after the Kangaroos representative suffered a season-ending knee injury in his side's loss to the Roosters.

Cronulla enter the match having beaten Penrith twice (26-22 in round seven and 24-12 in round 18) already this year.

Key match-up: Reagan Campbell-Gillard v Andrew Fifita. Whoever wins the battle between the representative stars will go a long way towards earning their side a trip to week three of the finals.

For the Sharks to win: Turning opportunities into points takes on even more importance in the finals. The Sharks wasted a couple of great try-scoring opportunities in their loss to the Roosters. If that is repeated, their season is likely to end.

Sharks v Panthers - Semi-Final

For the Panthers to win: The Panthers will be quite the force if they are able to start matches the way finish them. If they fall to a double-figure deficit in the early stages against the Sharks, it is likely to prove too big of a hurdle to overcome.

Sharks Stat Attack: Fullback Valentine Holmes is in career-best form, with 21 tries this season. He is also comfortably the yardstick in the competition when it comes to line breaks (25). Teammate Andrew Fifita has the most offloads (72). The prop does need to work on his discipline, conceding 35 penalties in 2018. Halfback Chad Townsend leads the player in support standings (579).

Panthers Stat Attack: Cameron Ciraldo's men need to work on their defence, missing an alarming 942 tackles in 2018. Pivot James Maloney is renowned for his big game performances, but defending isn't his strong suit, missing 154 tackles this year. Forward James Fisher-Harris has accumulated the most decoy runs (232). 

And another thing: The equation is simple for veteran Sharks back-rower Luke Lewis - win and progress to another grand final qualifier - lose and his glittering career is over. Lining up against the club where it all started at the foot of the mountains will only add to the occasion.

Craig Wing's tip: The Sharks had opportunities to win the game last week but I felt after about 60 minutes they looked a bit bunched and easy to defend against. They're a grinding team and you can never rule them out but the Panthers with Maloney feeding Kikau on the left edge, they can score a lot of points and their defence was really solid against the Warriors. Panthers by 4.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Penrith Panthers, Friday 7.40pm at Allianz Stadium

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Sharks: Josh Dugan will miss the sudden-death match with a shoulder injury. Jesse Ramien (No.18) moves from the reserves list into the starting side. Kurt Capewell has been called into the starting team, with Scott Sorensen dropping to the bench. Joseph Paulo and Kyle Flanagan were cut an hour prior to kick-off, while Dugan and Ava Seumanafagai were omitted on Thursday.

Panthers: Penrith are unchanged after beating the Warriors last week. Tyrone Phillips and Jack Hetherington were cut an hour out from kick-off, while Wayde Egan and Kaide Ellis were dropped on Thursday.

Head-to-head in NRL era: Played 88; Sharks 20 wins, Panthers 13 wins, 3 draws

Previous result: Sharks won 24-12 at Panthers Stadium in round 18
Points per game (regular season): Sharks 21.6 (6th); Panthers 21.5 (8th)
Points conceded per game (regular season): Sharks 17.6 (3rd); Panthers 19.2 (6th)
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League


Experience the excitement of Finals footy this weekend. Get your tickets to week 2 of the 2018 NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series