Star halves Matt Moylan and James Maloney will come up against former employers in a fascinating sub-plot to Friday night’s NRL semi-final between Cronulla and Penrith.
The pair swapped clubs at the end of last season, Moylan leaving his boyhood club to join the Sharks and replace Maloney, who moved on to the Panthers.
And while both players have enjoyed good seasons, ex-Cronulla star Brett Kimmorley is tipping Moylan to raise his game to another level in the cut-throat final at Allianz Stadium.
The match comes just days after Cronulla captain Paul Gallen claimed Maloney “wasn’t good enough” for the Sharks in 2017, a comment Kimmorley acknowledged “has lit the fuse”.
“Matt has been very good this year,” Kimmorley told The New Daily.
“He took a bit of time to settle in but he’s quite high up in try assists and line-break assists and his kicking game has grown to a new level.
“He’s certainly continued to improve as the year has gone on.
“I know that he has loved living out near the beach and enjoying the lifestyle in the Shire and I think he’s in a happy place, life wise. Staying injury free will help him.
“He’s played rep football a few years ago for New South Wales … maybe he’s the future five-eighth for NSW when James [Maloney] moves on.
“James has had success at every club he has been to and is a winner … but I think Matt will be the key man in a Sharks victory.”
Kimmorley said both players will have “massive motivation” to perform well against their old clubs, but thinks the match means more to Moylan.
“Matt Moylan grew up in the Penrith area. He was the captain of the club,” he said.
“I think he’ll certainly love playing against Penrith and I think he’d love to knock them out of the semi-finals in 2018.
“Not just to show them what they’ve let go, but to make a nice statement.
“It’s always a great challenge … when I went back [to play my first club, Newcastle] it was always the most important game.”
Wade Graham’s knee injury will cause a reshuffle for the Sharks and Fox Sports commentator Kimmorley said his absence would boost Penrith’s chances.
But he is backing Cronulla’s stars – many of whom played in the club’s 2016 premiership success – to make the most of their finals experience.
“Big-game experience and knowing how to handle these occasions is massive in these big games,” he said.
“You don’t want to beat yourself. Cronulla know how to prepare for the week and won’t rest on previous results.
“And some of the Sharks players have not only handled big games and played in lots of big games, but they’ve made big statements in lots of big games, which is the massive point.
“Andrew Fifita has stood up in Origin and the NRL Grand Final. Paul Gallen was the captain of New South Wales for a long time, Val Holmes is in super form and there’s Luke Lewis, Aaron Woods and Chad Townsend – these guys have played in big games.
“Cronulla have also won both occasions this year against Penrith. And that’s really important.
“Having confidence and knowing where you won those games – they would have taken something out of that.
“It’s a semi-final and that tiny bit of belief between the ears can help in the big games.”
Defeat for Penrith would make it three successive exits at the semi-final stage.
Cronulla Sharks v Penrith Panthers from 7.40pm on Friday is live in HD with no ad breaks during play on Fox League.