Palmerbet Sports Team’s Best of the Day preview picks apart a mouth-watering sudden-death NRL semi-final showdown between the Cronulla Sharks and Penrith Panthers, with tensions between the clubs already simmering. 

NRL Tips – Cronulla Sharks V Penrith Panthers

19:40 (AEST) @ Allianz Stadium, Sydney

History: Played 90: Cronulla 49 V Penrith 38 (3 Draws)

Last Meeting: Round 18, 2017: Cronulla 24 d Penrith 12 at Panthers Stadium

Final Thoughts: Cronulla and Penrith entered the premiership together in 1967, but this is the Sydney rivals’ first meeting in a finals match.

Panthers GM Phil Gould’s slur last year that the Sharks’ 2016 title triumph was a “soft” one has lit the fuse for this showdown, while the five-eighth duel between James Maloney and Matt Moylan – who swapped clubs in the off-season – provides another edge.

Maloney’s return from injury has transformed the Panthers. They lost two in a row before upsetting Melbourne in the final round to book a home elimination final, before putting the Warriors to the sword 27-12 in week one.

After falling behind 12-2, the Panthers played textbook finals football – tough, aggressive, composed and ruthless, with enough flashes of brilliance to score the last four tries of the match.

But in the semi-final they take on a Sharks side that has rewritten the textbook on grinding out wins in recent years.

Surging into the Top 4 on the back of wins in the last four rounds, Cronulla fell short against the minor premier Sydney Roosters 21-12 last Saturday. The Sharks led early in the second half but weren’t able to cash in on a couple of late chances in a gruelling contest.

The Sharks have been hit by injuries to multiple rep stars, with Wade Graham ruled out for the rest of the year and Josh Dugan pulling out on game eve. Scott Sorenson replaces Graham and explosive rookie Jesse Ramien comes in for Dugan. The Panthers are unchanged.

Cronulla have won eight of their last nine against Penrith, including the last five straight. This season the Sharks prevailed 26-22 at home in Round 7 and 24-12 at Panthers Stadium in Round 18.

The teams know how to produce a cliff-hanger: eight of their last 11 encounters were decided by 1-12 margins, including six games by four points or less.

The Sharks have won five of their last seven at Allianz Stadium but have lost their last two, which were both finals games. The Panthers are 4-4 in their last eight at Allianz, winning elimination finals there in 2016 and ’17.

The Panthers have stumbled in week two in each of the past two seasons, and despite last week’s wonderful performance, the Sharks’ superior big-game experience should be the telling factor with too much resting on Maloney’s shoulders.

Tip: Margin – Sharks 1 to 10 @ $3.30