Penrith are set to hand an NRL debut to youngster Dylan Edwards after dropping Tyrone Peachey for the NRL match against Cronulla for disciplinary reasons.
Panthers boss Phil Gould revealed on Saturday that Peachey accepted his axing to reserve grade, where he scored a try in a win over North Sydney.
“Panther Fans – Tyrone Peachey in NSW Cup today for disciplinary reasons – Tyrone totally accepts actions taken. He is very important to us,” Gould tweeted on Saturday.
Peachey’s shock banishment means Edwards is likely to be the fifth Panthers rookie to graduate to the NRL this season, with the 20-year-old to link with mid-season recruit Zak Hardaker in a new-look left edge.
Will Smith is all but certain to fill the boots of skipper Matt Moylan, who had a late recall to the NSW State of Origin team for game three on Wednesday.
“Willy can play fullback,” Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said.
“He played fullback for us when we beat Brisbane at the start of the year and he started the season in really good form at fullback for us while Moylan was out. He’s done that job before.”
Penrith moved into the top eight on Saturday following Parramatta’s fall down the ladder due to salary cap breaches, but could fall back into the bottom half with a loss against the Sharks.
Griffin said his playing group knew what was at stake against a Cronulla side gunning for their 13th consecutive win.
“As soon as Origin finishes after next Wednesday night, there’ll only be one thing to talk about and that’ll be who’s going to make the eight,” Griffin said.
“It’s not a matter of trying to not talk about it, but everyone understands that we’re close and the reason we’re close is we’ve worked really hard and been consistent.”
While the Panthers have lost Moylan and Josh Mansour to Origin duties, the Sharks have a club record five players with NSW, including skipper Paul Gallen, Jack Bird, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham and James Maloney.
The heavy representation means Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has been forced to hand fringe players Fa’amanu Brown, Matt McIlwrick, and Jesse Sene-Lefao their season debuts.
Youngster Kurt Capewell will also play the first game of his career.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Cronulla’s six wins from its past eight games against Penrith is their best record against any NRL club during the same period.
* Thirteen of Penrith’s 15 matches this season have been decided by eight points or less, while 10 of the Sharks’ 15 have been decided by the same margin.
* The match-up pits the league’s two best offloading teams against each other. Penrith average a league-high 15 offloads a game, while the Sharks are second with 13.