The Sharks trade the beaches for the golden west on Friday night when they hit the M4 and head to the foot of the Mountains to tackle a Penrith outfit that continues to breeze through wins at present.
Even when Manly got themselves back into the contest on the scoreboard in Bathurst last Saturday, you knew the Panthers were going to get the job done. With perhaps the best game manager in the NRL at the helm, it’s just expected now.
In reality Penrith’s biggest test is just around the corner – how it navigates the difficult State of Origin period could ultimately decide whether this side is the real deal when it comes to the Premiership.
You can lament the system and how it disadvantages teams at different stages, but the best of the best always manage to get through it and right the ship by September, and now it’s Penrith’s turn to prove they’re in that class.
Before then, however, it’s business as usual. A near full strength side will run onto BlueBet Stadium on Friday night in front of what is expected to be another strong crowd despite the 6pm timeslot, enough to ensure NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is shifting some numbers in the upcoming Budget to ensure the stadium’s upgrade is locked in.
Cronulla essentially threw the 2021 season in the bin when they dumped coach John Morris in the most farcical of circumstances a few weeks back, resulting in losses to the Knights, Bulldogs and Storm, the latter a second half demolition at AAMI Park last Friday night.
The Sharks will win their share of games in 2021 but the disruption caused by the Morris decision has derailed any realistic chance of them taking out the title, or perhaps even making the Finals.
Cronulla just isn’t competing for 80 minutes at the moment, a scary prospect when you consider that is one of Penrith’s most impressive traits – being switched on for the entire game, always feeling in control.
It’s been a few weeks since Penrith have put the cleaners through a team and I get the feeling a complete performance is just around the corner – and it could come at Cronulla’s expense.
Much of Penrith’s brilliance at the moment is coming from unexpected places and I’m not sure Cronulla can handle it.
Winger Brian To’o was barely a lock for a first grade spot 12 months ago but is now a household name, defying his stature and size and absolutely tearing apart oppositions.
Tyrone May may be far from a fan favourite and you can certainly pick out deficiencies in his game, but he’s delivering in multiple positions at present and quietly going about the hard yards.
And then there’s Isaah Yeo – one of the hardest working locks in the game with a superb tackle efficiency rate and a heart that any coach would be proud of.
Cronulla just don’t have that spirit at the moment. The club is hoping that incoming coach Craig Fitzgibbon can discover it, but that’s a long way down the road.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has named the same side that beat Manly last Saturday to face the Sharks, with Kurt Capewell under a slight injury cloud.
Braden Hamlin-Uele is out for Cronulla, while Matt Moylan has been named on an extended bench.
Tip: Panthers by 30.
Penrith and Cronulla play at BlueBet Stadium on Friday, May 7 at 6pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.