Panthers v Sharks preview

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Penrith Panthers v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Friday 7:55pm at Panthers Stadium

Changing fortunes cross over out West as each side jockeys for a spot in September.

These two sides are locked in a tense fight to secure either 7th or 8th place with just five rounds left to play before the finals hit town.

Coming into this one, the Panthers have just dropped out of the eight - at the expense of yep, Cronulla. After hobbling through much of the season crippled by injury, the Sharks have finally returned to relative full strength in recent weeks, and with it has come important victories over the Cowboys and Rabbitohs that have propelled them back into the top eight after a dire Origin period which saw them slide out.

Penrith's season has gone in phases - they won just two of their first ten games before embarking on a seven game winning streak during the Origin period to find themselves in the eight. The dream run of results came to a screeching halt on Sunday afternoon in Round 19 when the Raiders out-muscled the Panthers, and worrying cracks showed in last Saturday's loss to Canterbury.

There is good news for the home side, with Viliame Kikau returning from suspension in the back row. His return sees Frank Winterstein left out of the 17, while on the bench Wayde Egan and Jarome Luai are both missing through injury. Sione Katoa and debutant Spencer Leniu are the new faces on the interchange.

Cronulla's teamsheet has one forced change, with Matt Moylan out and Sosaia Feki in. The resulting shuffle pushes Josh Dugan to fullback and Josh Morris to centre.

Last meeting: Round 6 2019 - Sharks 24 Panthers 20

Who to watch: The halves pairings in this contest have come under fire plenty of times this season, but have also proved crucial at others.

Penrith's James Maloney and Nathan Cleary had such a shaky start to the season that they were almost ruled out of contention when it came to retaining their incumbent positions in the New South Wales Origin side. Cleary ultimately held his spot and Maloney joined him in Game II, and both players have had key roles in reversing the Panthers' fortunes and guiding them to those seven consecutive wins.

At times (and even still now), Cronulla fans have called for Chad Townsend and Shaun Johnson to be kicked down to the Sharks' Canterbury Cup feeder club in Newtown for a spell. Both have had largely indifferent form this season, but when they're both on their game, the Sharks are an exciting side to watch. There are still issues, even with recent victories - namely Townsend's kicking game and Johnson still not chancing his arm in the way most expect him to - but if the rest of the Sharks side can stay fit, that should improve.

The favourite: Form speaks strongly for the punters here, with Cronulla enjoying solid backing.

My tip: There's some real danger here for Penrith - another loss and they face an uphill battle to make the eight over the final four rounds. While I think they'll show plenty of desperation, their pedestrian attack and thus inability to score points means that Cronulla are a safer choice. Sharks by 6.

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 20. Stephen Crichton 4. Brent Naden 5. Brian To'o 21. Matt Burton 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 16. Moses Leota 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Sione Katoa 15. Spencer Leniu 17. Reagan Campbell-Gillard

1. Josh Dugan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Morris 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Aaron Woods 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Kurt Capewell 15. Jack Williams 16. Andrew Fifita 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele

Referees: Grant Atkins, Phil Henderson; Sideline Officials: Rickey McFarlane, Nick Morel; Video Referees: Ashley Klein, Ben Galea;

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