The subjects of rugby league’s most talked about swap deal – James Maloney and Matt Moylan – go head to head for the first time at their new clubs this weekend.
But regardless of what the scoreboard says when the sun sets at Southern Cross Group Stadium late on Sunday afternoon, the judges and experts have already declared a winner.
Maloney and Penrith have proven to be a match made in heaven – the old legs that many doubted in the pre-season have shown they’ve still got plenty to offer. As for Moylan, he’s still searching for his first win in Cronulla colours and is struggling to find form in a side that finds itself decimated by injury heading into the Maloney-Moylan Cup.
Paul Gallen is a definite withdrawal while Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and Andrew Fifita are all in severe doubt.
On paper, Penrith should continue forward and win their sixth game of the season, especially given the Sharks still can’t quite settle on the spine they want moving forward – which is creating plenty of doubt and inconsistency in their performances. Moylan has been named at five-eighth this week with Josh Dugan at fullback as Shane Flanagan’s merry-go-round continues.
Matches like this, however, can often prove to be danger games – a little bit of complacency from Penrith and Cronulla’s re-shuffled side could well make the most of their opportunities.
Post-match last week, both James Maloney and Anthony Griffin talked about the simplicity of Penrith’s game plan. When the side plays simple, the points start flowing. When they make things too complicated or when panic sets in, that’s when the opposition starts to steal the momentum.
A simple game plan makes even more sense when you have to deal with the injuries that have confronted Griffin’s men this season. Josh Mansour has now been added to that list and with only Sam McKendry’s injury being season ending, there will continue to be changes to Penrith’s 17 almost weekly over the next few months.
Discipline may well be a key factor in Sunday’s game too. Peter Wallace and Andrew Fifita share the dubious honour of having given away the most penalties in the NRL this season (10 each), while Penrith have conceded more penalties than any other side in the competition after six rounds (66). The Sharks aren’t far behind, sitting fourth in penalties conceded (61). That points to a potential penalty-a-thon on Sunday, but it also opens the door for one of these sides to really work on their discipline and potentially dominate possession.
Penrith’s kicking game has been superb this year, even without Cleary for the last three weeks, and they should use that to their advantage on Sunday. Keep the ball in play, get energy from their defence and keep it simple in attack.
Cronulla’s record against Penrith has been pretty impressive in recent seasons but this is a real chance for the Panthers to turn the tables. If they can win this one, and do it impressively, then any remaining critics will surely be silenced as the Panthers begin to put some ‘real deal’ talk into their premiership aspirations.
Tip: Panthers by 10.
Penrith and Cronulla play at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday, April 22 at 4.10pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.