Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks vs North Queensland Cowboys: Lineups, preview and predictions
Southern Cross Group Stadium, Saturday 18th August, 7:35pm AEST.
Saturday’s matches for Round 22 wraps up with the 6th placed Sharks hosting the surprisingly last-placed Cowboys. Both teams are coming off some thrilling and gritty wins against teams who are rivals for each side. These 2 teams have started to develop a bit of a rivalry over the last few years, courtesy of some emotion-charged finals encounters. As such, it’s a real shame that only one team from this match will feature in this year’s finals.
The Sharks atoned for their surprise loss to the Sea Eagles a fortnight ago, by holding out an inform Storm outfit to secure a gritty 17-14 win in Melbourne. That win saw the Sharkies do the double on one of the competition’s toughest sides. Moreover, they have become a bit of a bogey side for the Storm since their premiership year of 2016. As such, they maintain their quest for a coveted top 4 spot.
The Cowboys overturned a 12 point deficit in the 2nd half, to steal a 34-30 victory over the Broncos in yet another thrilling Queensland Derby. The victory came courtesy of a late converted try to powerful back rower Coen Hess. Moreover, this win by the Cows was yet another occasion in which they came from behind and broke the hearts of big brother. Despite this impressive victory, the Cowboys found themselves in last place, having been leapfrogged by the Eels, who demolished an out of sorts Dragons outfit.
The Sharks will be eager to continue their quest for a top 4 spot with a win here, while the Cowboys will be incredibly keen and desperate to avoid the wooden spoon. To do that, they simply must win this match, and improve their points differential. In addition, the great Johnathan Thurston will play his final competitive match in Sydney, and New South Wales in general. As such, the Cows will be eager to make it memorable for their greatest ever servant, while the Sharkies will be looking to spoil that party.
2018 – Round 1 – North Queensland Cowboys 20 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 14 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
2017 – Elimination Final – North Queensland Cowboys 15 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 14 at Allianz Stadium.
2017 – Round 24 – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 26 def. North Queensland Cowboys 16 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
2017 – Round 11 – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 def. North Queensland Cowboys 14 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
2016 – Preliminary Final – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 32 def. North Queensland Cowboys 20 at Allianz Stadium.
As can be seen, the Sharks have won 3 out of the 5 most recent matches against the Cowboys. However, the Cowboys have won the last 2 encounters with the Sharks. In the overall matches between the 2 sides, the men from the Sutherland Shire have won 27 matches, while the men from the tropics have won 18 matches. Although the Sharkies have been the overall dominant side, the bulk of their wins over the Cowboys came in the first decade of existence for the North Queenslanders. It was only in 2004 when the Cows had begun to defeat the Sharks on a more consistent basis.
As stated earlier, a bit of a rivalry has started to develop over the last few years between the 2 sides, especially with regards to their finals encounters since 2013. They have met on 4 occasions in the finals, with the ledger at 2 wins apiece. Mind you, many Cowboys supporters will feel that their 2013 finals outing should have gone their way, as a try was awarded to the Sharks in very controversial circumstances. That contentious try would prove crucial, as the Sharks eventually won 20-18. The Cows would gain their revenge 2 years later, as they annihilated the Sharks 39-0 in the 2015 semi-final, en route to their maiden premiership. The Sharkies would avenge that humiliation, by defeating the Cowboys 32-20 in the preliminary final, en route to their maiden premiership. However, the Cowboys would atone for that loss against all the odds, by pipping the Sharks 15-14 in golden point in last year’s elimination final.
A figure who has a foot in both camps is Cowboys mentor Paul Green. Greeny played just under 100 matches for the Sharks from 1995 to 1998, before playing for the Cowboys, Roosters, Eels and Broncos. As such, he is well aware of the culture at the Sharks, as well as what it’s like playing at Southern Cross Group Stadium, given he plied his trade there as a player. Moreover, his coaching record against his former team is rather fair, having coached the Cowboys to 6 wins from 12 matches.
|Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks||North Queensland Cowboys|
|1||Valentine Holmes||Te Maire Martin|
|2||Sosaia Feki||Kyle Feldt|
|3||Jesse Ramien||Justin O’Neill|
|4||Ricky Leutele||Kane Linnett|
|5||Josh Dugan||Gideon Gela-Mosby|
|6||Matt Moylan||Jake Clifford|
|7||Chad Townsend||Johnathan Thurston|
|8||Andrew Fifita||Matt Scott|
|9||Jayden Brailey||Jake Granville|
|10||Matt Prior||Jordan McLean|
|11||Luke Lewis||Gavin Cooper|
|12||Scott Sorensen||Coen Hess|
|13||Paul Gallen||John Asiata|
|14||Kurt Capewell||Ben Hampton|
|15||James Segeyaro||Francis Molo|
|16||Aaron Woods||Corey Jensen|
|17||Jayson Bukuya||Scott Bolton|
|18||Joseph Paulo||Ethan Lowe|
|19||Ava Seumanufagai||Kyle Laybutt|
|20||Wade Graham||Shaun Fensom|
|21||Sione Katoa||Enari Tuala|
The facts that matter
The Sharks last week proved they were not to be messed with, as they caused an upset win over the in-form Storm in Melbourne, handing the defending premiers their 2nd consecutive loss. It was a gritty win in a match that had a finals-like atmosphere about it, and the Sharkies put in a vastly improved performance in defence, as they twice denied the Storm with some last ditch and scrambling defence, to hold on for a well-deserved win. Although their completion rate was lower than the Storm, and having a higher error rate, both can be attributed to their desire to bamboozle the normally solid Storm defence.
Their attack may not be the best in the NRL, having only scored 423 points for the season, which is the lowest of any top-eight side, except the Warriors, however, that hasn’t stopped superstar winger Valentine Holmes topping the try-scoring charts. The speedy Queenslander leads the way with tries scored, having touched down 19 times thus far. In addition, the Sharkies make up for their lack of bite in attack, by having a rather stern defence. The men from the Sutherland Shire have only conceded 377 points this season, to be ranked 4th in defence. Moreover, despite the comparatively low number of points scored by them, the Sharkies are actually quite dangerous with the ball, as they are ranked quite high in offloads (255 – 3rd) and line breaks (86 – 4th).
The Sharks have won six matches at home, and lost four. However, their most recent match against the struggling Sea Eagles resulted in a golden point loss. That match was one that they were widely expected to win. As well as being placed much higher on the ladder than their opponents, their record against them at home is quite strong, having won 13 out of 18 matches in the Sutherland Shire. Moreover, they have not lost to the Cowboys at home since 2014. Despite the aforementioned, this match still looms as a danger match for the Sharks, as they have struggled against teams ranked lower than them this season.
Despite their lowly position on the ladder, the Cowboys showed everyone last week that there is more class in their team than their ladder position suggests. In yet another classic Queensland Derby clash, the Cows led at halftime, before the Broncos scored the next 14 points to lead 30-18. However, little brother simply refused to lie down, and launched a comeback to pinch the game from under the noses of the Broncos, with a late try to Coen Hess. Despite their impressive win, the Cowboys, unfortunately, find themselves sitting at the foot of the ladder, due to the Eels’ resounding defeat of the Dragons, thereby drawing level on points with the Cowboys and surpassing them on points differential.
Their impressive victory last week came courtesy of dominant performances by their key forwards, Jason Taumalolo, Jordan McLean and co-captain Matt Scott, who made 286, 195 and 182 metres respectively. Taumalolo leads the competition in post-contact metres, having made 1575 this season. Unfortunately, the Cowboys will miss the services of the giant Tongan hulk, who is suspended from this match due to a shoulder charge. In addition, although the Cowboys have the 3rd highest error count (229), they have improved out of sight in this regard over the last fortnight, having made only 10 errors in that time.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys have struggled on the road this season, with their only victories coming against the Sea Eagles on the northern beaches, and the Panthers in Bathurst. They have lost 8 matches away from home this season, which is a far cry from last season, when they won 9 matches on the road (including heir finals encounters against the Sharks, Eels and Roosters, all in Sydney). Although their record in the Sutherland Shire is rather poor, having only won 5 times there, and not returned home victorious since 2014, the Cows’ most recent encounter with the Sharks in Sydney resulted in a golden point win, courtesy of a Michael Morgan field goal. As such, they will take plenty of confidence from that. However, neither he nor Taumalolo (both of whom played starring roles in said match) will be present here, due to injury and suspension, respectively.
Despite the overall contrasting fortunes of each team over the course of the season, this will still be a cracking match, especially as the Sharks are eager to stay in touch with the top 4 and even potentially leapfrog bitter rivals, the Dragons. For the Cowboys, they are simply eager to get off the bottom of the ladder, and avoid finishing with the wooden spoon, particularly in Johnathan Thurston’s final season. Speaking of the great JT, this match will be his final match in Sydney, as he will see out his career in Queensland over the final fortnight of the season. As such, the Cowboys will be eager to ensure he ends his final visit to Sydney as a Cowboys player on a high, whereas the Sharks will be keen to put a dampener on those celebrations.
The Cowboys have actually won their 2 most recent encounters against the Sharks, with an error-riddled match in the opening round, as well as ending the premiership defence of the Sharks in last year’s elimination final. They will be eager to do the double on the Sharks with a win here, however, they must do so without key forward and Tongan hulk Jason Taumalolo, who is suspended for this match. As such, that gives the Sharks the ascendancy, and whilst the Cows will rip in and have a red hot go, the absence of Taumalolo will likely be a bit too much to overcome. Therefore, I think the Sharks should just scrape home here, despite them also missing key forward Wade Graham. Sharks by 2.
Who comes out on top when the high-flying Sharks tackle the struggling Cowboys? Let us know in the comments below.