ICYMI, on Thursday the @NRL - National Rugby League released the 2018 #NRLDraw.
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Penrith welcome back a host of stars as they attempt to overcome a Cronulla side shooting for four straight victories.
The Panthers' 2-4 record to start the season is not really an indication of where they truly stand this season. Nonetheless, they will be desperate to return to claim victory this week as a spot in the Top Four is very quickly fading away. Last week, despite the absence of eight regular first graders, Penrith only fell to South Sydney thanks to a late Adam Reynolds field goal and were left to rue another week of missed opportunities. Thankfully, the Panthers are bolstered by the inclusion of a number of returning players including disciplined trio Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku as well as Tyrone Peachey, James Fisher-Harris and Viliame Kikau. Bryce Cartwright could also be a late addition to the Penrith side, yet he is the least likely to return. What does not read well for Penrith, however, is that their only two wins this season have come against the lowly Tigers and Knights. In saying this, the nature of those victories can give Penrith fans hope that the potential is there, in both attack and defence. And the Panthers have the perfect opportunity to re-affirm their premiership credentials this week when they tackle the in-form Sharks.
After back-to-back wins over the Eels and Knights the Sharks emphatically announced themselves as a legitimate chance of claiming the title once more when they held Melbourne tryless for the first time at AAMI Park. The 11-2 victory saw the Sharks climb up to third spot on the ladder and they will certainly fancy their chances of continuing their winning ways against a Penrith side who they have defeated in 7 of their past 9 encounters. Unfortunately, former Panther James Segeyaro has been denied the opportunity to play his former side after being ruled out for 4-6 weeks with a broken arm suffered in the victory over Melbourne. However, even with the absence of Segeyaro, the Cronulla line-up for this weekend's clash is still teeming with former Panthers such as Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and Jeremy Latimore.
Who to watch: For the home side, although all eyes will be on Matt Moylan, the loss of Tyrone Peachey last week was just as important for the Panthers. Peachey has enjoyed a stellar 2017 campaign with three tries, six line breaks and 30 tackle busts and Penrith fans will be hoping Peachey's tackle-breaking ability makes an appearance on Sunday afternoon against Cronulla's stern defence.
Meanwhile, with Barba now gone, Cronulla fans will be hoping for a similar man-of-the-match effort from Valentine Holmes. Playing in his preferred position, Holmes has been solid for the Sharks yet has still not reached his true potential. In four games Holmes has managed a try, two line breaks and ten tackle busts. Penrith have been guilty of a few defensive lapses and Holmes' speed could prove a match-winner late in this one if things are locked up.
My tip: The Panthers will certainly be desperate to claim a victory here with their Top Four hopes disappearing and will be keen to repay the faith of their fans after last week's underwhelming performance at home. They also welcome back a series of stars including captain Matt Moylan, who must be involved heavily if Penrith are to emerge victorious. Yet, talent has never been the issue for Penrith. Their execution in the opposition's twenty in recent weeks has been less than impressive and they will find it no easier against the Sharks. Despite Penrith's extra two days of recovery and the demanding nature of Cronulla's victory over Melbourne, the Sharks should have too much class. Sharks by 10.
1. Matt Moylan 2. Waqa Blake 3. Dean Whare 4. Tyrone Peachey 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Isaah Yeo 12. James Fisher-Harris 13. Trent Merrin 15. Leilani Latu 18. Moses Leota 19. Tim Browne 20. Peta Hiku
1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 17. Kurt Capewell 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 19. Joseph Paulo