This match comes four years after the seven tackle debacle that knocked the Cowboys out of the competition. North Queensland won the title two years ago while Cronulla are the reigning Premiers however neither of the pair have lit up the competition in 2017.
The Cowboys’ seventh straight finals appearance was secured thanks to the spirited Bulldogs beating St George last week. Their last round effort against the Broncos was a fair attempt considering the team has little continuity with combinations however their defence was poor again. They come into this match with one win from their last six with their horrendous injury record proving costly.
Cronulla also limped into the finals having only won half of their last eight games. With no indicative signs they can be the first team to win back-to-back titles since 1993-1994, the Sharks need to get their struggling attack going.
A do or die clash sees the winner play either the Storm or the Eels next week.
2017 – Rd 24 Sharks 26 def. Cowboys 16 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
2017 – Rd 11 Sharks 18 def. Cowboys 14 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2016 – Preliminary Final Sharks 32 def. Cowboys 20 at Allianz Stadium
2016 – Rd 14 Sharks 13 def. Cowboys 10 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2016 – Rd 1 Cowboys 20 def. Sharks 14 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
Cronulla have won four of the last five encounters although the games have always been tight, with the 12-point victory in last year’s preliminary final being the most convincing. The Cowboys’ last victory over the Sharks came in round one of the 2016 season.
|CRONULLA SHARKS||NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS|
|Valentine Holmes||1||1||Lachlan Coote|
|Sosaia Feki||2||2||Kyle Feldt|
|Jack Bird||3||3||Javid Bowen|
|Ricky Leutele||4||4||Kane Linnett|
|Gerard Beale||5||5||Antonio Winterstein|
|James Maloney||6||6||Te Maire Martin|
|Chad Townsend||7||7||Michael Morgan|
|Andrew Fifita||8||8||John Asiata|
|Jayden Brailey||9||9||Jake Granville|
|Matt Prior||10||10||Scott Bolton|
|Luke Lewis||11||11||Gavin Cooper|
|Wade Graham||12||12||Ethan Lowe|
|Paul Gallen||13||13||Jason Taumalolo|
|Jayson Bukuya||14||14||Ben Hampton|
|Chris Heighington||15||15||Coen Hess|
|Jeremy Latimore||16||16||Corey Jensen|
|James Segeyaro||17||17||Shaun Fensom|
|Kurt Capewell||18||18||Ray Thompson|
|Fa’amanu Brown||19||19||Kyle Laybutt|
|Jesse Ramien||20||20||Braden Uele|
|Joseph Paulo||21||21||Enari Tuala|
The favourites are boosted by the return of representative players Jack Bird and Wade Graham. It could be Bird’s final game for Cronulla before moving to Brisbane so he will be keen to put in a big shift.
The Facts of The Matter
With Bird moving on and players like Valentine Holmes vying for a Kangaroos World Cup jersey, there is plenty of extra motivation for the home side to win.
Chad Townsend and James Maloney were on fire last season but have struggled to replicate that form. The Sharks will have a few trick shorts up their sleeve with Graham returning as the versatile back-rower is capable of kicking the Cowboys to death in their own in-goal.
Cronulla will look to expose the Cowboys’ right edge defence just as they did in their meeting earlier this year and that could well be a key battle on the field.
The Sharks have plenty of resilience and also claimed hammered Sydney Roosters 44-12 earlier in the season to show that, on their day, Cronulla are capable of beating anyone.
North Queensland Cowboys
Jason Taumalolo nearly makes up two forwards for the Cowboys and can affluently cover the loss of Matt Scott, having trampled and tormented sides once again this year. A big charge from Taumalolo on Sunday with the game on the line could prove pivotal and his presence is vital for a side missing their two co-captains.
The Cowboys lost a Queensland derby against the Broncos last week whereas the 2016 Premiers played wooden spoon winners Newcastle. They have had an 11-day turnaround since and should be prepared, both mentally and physically, for this clash.
They have struggled to find a regular kicker without Johnathan Thurston. With points often hard to come by in finals football, this could be a key factor which works against the Queensland club.
The Cowboys are fighting fit and have the best squad on the field that they could have hoped for since Scott and Thurston went down early in the season. Having performed admirably ever since, they should be able to win here and get some momentum going.
Michael Morgan and Te Maire Martin will blossom on Sunday with the Sharks halves failing to muster up the form that delivered the 2016 Premiership. Expect a very close encounter similar to the 2013 match-up. Cowboys victory by 4, with a late try for Ethan Lowe.
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