The Cronulla Sharks’ finals chances have taken a blow on the back of a tough 26-20 defeat at the hands of the Panthers.
Despite missing stalwart half and debuting three juniors, the Penrith Panthers have managed to squeeze past the Cronulla Sharks in a desperate bid to secure their position in the top eight. The Panthers jumped out to what looked to be an unassailable 26-4 lead early in the second half before the Sharks clawed back and set up a grandstand finish. A try-scoring double to fullback Dylan Edwards, as well as four-pointers to Nathan Cleary and Brent Naden saw the Panthers dominate early, before the Sharks piled on three tries in 15 minutes. Goal-kicking again proved to be the difference, with both sides crossing the stripe on four occasions.
Nathan Cleary had an incredible outing alongside debutant Matt Burton in the halves, finishing the game with a try, a pair of try assists, 133 run metres and two line breaks. James Fisher-Harris was Penrith’s forward leader, running for a game-high 188 metres and making 40 tackles. Wade Graham was terrific in a losing side, scoring a try, running for a team-high 136 run metres, and making 29 tackles. The Sharks lost Matt Prior early to a rib problem and Andrew Fifita failed to finish the game with an apparent knee issue.
Despite the loss, the Sharks are still in a position to make a finals runs. They currently sit one point out of the top eight and will face the Dragons, Warriors, Raiders and Tigers in the run home. The Dragons, Warriors, and Tigers all sit below the Sharks on the competition ladder, whilst the Raiders will be looking to consolidate their spot in the top four. The Sharks final game of the season will be a Sunday afternoon showdown at Leichhardt Oval against the Wests Tigers who are currently on the same number of competition as the Sharks and could be playing off for the final spot in the top eight. The next month of football will be huge for John Morris’ men if they are to set themselves up for a deep postseason run.