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Panthers centre Waqa Blake.

The Sharks have downed the Panthers twice this year and dominate them in recent years but the numbers from the two 2018 meetings provide a glimmer of hope for Penrith fans.

The Sharks won 26-22 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round seven and eased to a 24-12 win in the return bout at Penrith in round 18, though that match was against a badly under-strength Penrith side missing all its key playmakers.

Penrith have the edge in in-game numbers

Sharks players have spoken at length this week about the threat their old teammate James Maloney will provide and there is no question Penrith have the arsenal to throw plenty of attack at Shane Flanagan's men.

Across both Telstra Premiership meetings this year, the Sharks have only outscored Penrith by eight tries to six despite winning two games to nil. In those games they have gained far more yardage off the boot (averaging 552 kick metres per game to Penrith's 363) but Penrith are in front in most other major attacking statistics, according to Stats.

The mountain men lead the Shire boys in run metres per game 1721-1401, in tackle breaks 81-75, in line breaks 12-11 and in offloads 34-26.

The Panthers have one more try-save (2-1) and a fractionally better effective tackle rate (83.7% - 83.2%) in the two meetings this year.

And remember that all comes with Penrith going into the second of the two matches missing Nathan Cleary, James Maloney, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Josh Mansour and Reagan Campbell-Gillard from the team that will run onto Allianz Stadium this weekend.

What all this suggests is in the two meetings this year, Cronulla have done a better job of taking the opportunities that arise and scrambled better in defence – two areas they got beaten in in a narrow loss to the Roosters last week.

No Wade, no worries?

Cronulla captain Paul Gallen said this week that while star second-rower Wade Graham represents a huge loss for the team, that team has nevertheless coped just fine in his absence already in what has been an injury-marked season for Graham.

In 11 games where Graham has played the full 80, Cronulla have done well, winning eight games and losing just three.

In a further seven games where Graham has failed to finish or otherwise spent time off the field injured (including a round one loss to the Cowboys in which he went off for a HIA but passed and returned to the field), the Sharks have won three but lost four.

Losing a key player mid-game is obviously a blow to any team. However in a first seven matches in which Cronulla have been without Graham altogether, they have won six and lost just once, adding credence to Gallen's theory the side has managed to cope in his absence.

The overall tally with Graham in the team this year is 11 wins and seven losses, while without him it is six wins and one loss.

History favours Cronulla

The Sharks have now won five straight against Penrith, and 10 of the past 12 clashes.

The two teams have never played each other at Allianz Stadium but interestingly the venue has been a fairly happy hunting ground for both of late.

The Sharks may carry a few nervy memories given their past two visits have ended with a loss: to the Roosters last week, and a season-ending finals loss to the Cowboys last year.

But before that they won five on the bounce between 2014 and 2016, and two of those were finals appearances (against Souths in 2015 and the Cowboys in 2016).

Penrith, like Cronulla, suffered a last-start loss to the Roosters there (a messy 32-6 result in round 15) but won four of the previous five. Like Cronulla, they go OK there in September too; they have won three straight finals at the ground including consecutive elimination finals wins, ending Manly's season there last year and Canterbury's the previous year. They upset the Roosters in 2014 in a fourth-versus-first clash before that.


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