North Queensland Cowboys vs Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks: Lineups, preview and prediction

1300 SMILES Stadium, Friday 9th March, 8:05pm AEST.

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Overview

A first round clash that has several intriguing story lines and shapes as a potential match of the round will see the boys from the Shire travel to Townsville to take on last seasons runners up the Cowboys. Both sides once again look capable of challenging for a place in Top 4 and will be a force for other team all season.

There will be a party feel for the Cowboys with their talismanic Halfback Johnathan Thurston lining up for his long awaited 300th game. Matt Scott will also return for the Cowboys after missing all of last season with injury he will look to remind everyone how destructive he can be.

The Sharks have recruited well in the off season, bringing in high profile players Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan as well as strengthening their already powerful forward pack with Ava Seumanufagai starting from the bench, the Sharks squad looks very threatening on paper for the 2018 season.

Recent meetings

2017 – Elimination Final – Cowboys 15 Def Sharks 14 Allianz Stadium

2017 – Rd 24 – Sharks 26 Def Cowboys 16 1300 SMILES Stadium

2017 – Rd 11 – Sharks 18 Def Cowboys 14 Southern Cross Group Stadium

2016 – Preliminary Final – Sharks 32 Def Cowboys 20 Allianz Stadium

2016 – Rd 14 – Sharks 13 Def Cowboys 10 Southern Cross Group Stadium

Cowboys and Sharks have clashed in many important contests over the past few seasons, including a finals match in both the last two seasons which are split at one a piece. The Sharks will be out for revenge after being dumped out of the 2017 season by the Cowboys on their fairytale path to the Grand final where they fell just short of the perfect finish.

Sharks have won all three of the most recent regular seasons matches between the sides with the most recent of those wins in round 24 last year coming at 1300 SMILES Stadium during the 2017 season where the Sharks were strong away from home all season winning 10 of 12 games on the road.

Selected teams

North Queensland Cowboys Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
1 Ben Hampton Valentine Holmes
2 Kyle Feldt Sosaia Feki
3 Justin O’Neill Josh Dugan
4 Javid Bowen Ricky Leutele
5 Antonio Winterstein Sione Katoa
6 Michael Morgan Matt Moylan
7 Johnathan Thurston Chad Townsend
8 Matt Scott Andrew Fifita
9 Jake Granville Jayden Brailey
10 Jordan McLean Matt Prior
11 Gavin Cooper Luke Lewis
12 Ethan Lowe Wade Graham
13 Jason Taumalolo Paul Gallen
Interchange
14 Te Maire Martin Jayson Bukuya
15 Coen Hess James Segeyaro
16 Scott Bolton Ava Seumanufagai
17 John Asiata Joseph Paulo
Reserves
18 Corey Jensen Kurt Capewell
19 Kyle Laybutt Kurt Dillon
20 Francis Molo Aaron Gray
21 Enari Tuala Trent Hodkinson

The facts that matter

North Queensland Cowboys

The Cowboys made a fairytale finals run and overcame more fancied opponents only to fall at the last hurdle but they did it without superstar Captain JT. Having Thurston back adds a whole new threat to an already impressive squad, his leadership and ability to pull off the big play at the crucial point in matches will be important for the Cowboys in 2018.

Cowboys hero Jason Taumalolo will have some much needed back up this season with the returning Matt Scott and new recruit Jordan McLean leading the forward pack which will take a lot of pressure of Taumalolo which could lead to an even more destructive season for the Cowboys wrecking ball lock forward.

Friday night marks not only Thurston’s 300th game it’s also his 271st game for the Cowboys which will see him overtake his great mate Matt Bowen for most games played for the club. The Cowboys will be looking to celebrate these milestones with a win for JT.

Cronulla Sharks

The Sharks ended their 2017 title defence with a disappointing loss to the Cowboys in the first round of the finals series and will be out to avenge that loss. Several new players and a skillful debutant boost the Sharks squad for the new season. Without the added pressure of a title defence they could be in for a big season.

Paul Gallen will once again lead a top quality Cronulla forward pack into battle for his 18 season in the NRL and if his stats from last season are anything to go by, he is still just as dominate as he was in his first season. Gallen’s hard running and offloads will be need to be on song to lay the platform the halves to control the game for the Sharks.

Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan will debut for the club and bring with them the hope they can turn around some of the point scoring woes that plagued the Sharks in 2017. Both players have the ability to create something out of nothing and play off the cuff which is something lacking from the Sharks last year.

Prediction

The key to stopping the Sharks is shutting down the likes of Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita limiting the influence they can have on the game and if any team will do that it’s the Cowboys with Taumalolo and Scott being perfect for this job. I expect the Sharks to send a lot of traffic towards JT, making him get through a lot of work in defence hoping it will keep him out of the game when the Cowboys have the ball.

This contest will be a hard fought battle and im going to go with the Sharks to spoil the party for the Cowboys on the back of a massive performance from a reinvigorated Matt Moylan. Sione Katoa to score on debut, Sharks by 8.

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