Like a lot of games at this point of the season, this match will have an air of desperation surrounding it. It wasn’t too long ago that the Cowboys were eyeing a top four finish but they now sit precariously in eighth. A loss here, coupled with a Dragons victory over the Broncos, will see them fall out of the top eight. A win would effectively seal a finals spot and move them onto 30 points alongside their opponents.
Unlike the Cowboys, Cronulla still have top four aspirations. Their current status as the reigning Premiers adds extra pressure as they aim for consecutive titles, a feat which has not been achieved since the early 1990’s by the Brisbane Broncos. No team has won the Premiership after finishing the regular season outside of the top four since 1995 so this game has plenty of meaning for the visitors too.
2017 – Rd 11 Cronulla 18 def. North Queensland 14 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2016 – Preliminary Final Cronulla 32 def. North Queensland 20 at Suncorp Stadium
2016 – Rd 14 Cronulla 13 def. North Queensland 10 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2016 – Rd 1 North Queensland 20 def. Cronulla 14 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2015 – Semi final North Queensland 39 def. Cronulla 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium
|Lachlan Coote||1||1||Valentine Holmes|
|Kyle Feldt||2||2||Sosaia Feki|
|Javid Bowen||3||3||Kurt Capewell|
|Kane Linnett||4||4||Ricky Leutele|
|Kalyn Ponga||5||5||Gerard Beale|
|Te Maire Martin||6||6||James Maloney|
|Michael Morgan||7||7||Chad Townsend|
|John Asiata||8||8||Andrew Fifita|
|Jake Granville||9||9||Fa’amanu Brown|
|Scott Bolton||10||10||Matt Prior|
|Coen Hess||11||11||Luke Lewis|
|Ethan Lowe||12||12||Wade Graham|
|Jason Taumalolo||13||13||Paul Gallen|
|Ben Hampton||14||14||Jayson Bukuya|
|Patrick Mago||15||15||Sam Tagataese|
|Corey Jensen||16||16||Jeremy Latimore|
|Sam Hoare||17||17||James Segeyaro|
|Braden Uele||18||Chris Heighington|
|Kyle Laybutt||19||Joseph Paulo|
|Enari Tuala||20||Jayden Brailey|
|Shane Wright||21||Jesse Ramien|
The Facts That Matter
North Queensland Cowboys
It is well-documented how courageously the Cowboys have performed this year, particularly given the absence of inspirational co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott. They were particularly courageous in defence last week, as their 15 fit men fell to a late defeat against the Panthers. However, the Cowboys have only managed one victory against the main Premiership contenders.
That victory came in round two courtesy of a golden point field goal from Thurston. They have led against the likes of Melbourne and the Roosters alongside today’s opponent but, so far, haven’t been able to see out the win. North Queensland can compete with the best and an improvement in game management could see them pick up a crucial win.
Their home record hasn’t been as strong as last year, only winning six from 10 games while they have struggled to compete with the pacesetters in try-scoring. 2016 saw the Cowboys ranked second in points scored across the regular season, yet another fact that underlines the importance of Thurston. On the flip side, the Cowboys do not concede many penalties, have a relatively low error rate, and have conceded a comparatively low number of tries.
Many have already written off the Sharks’ chances of retaining their Premiership title, particularly after being thrashed by the Broncos last week. However, they did go into last year’s finals series with inconsistent form and we all know how that turned out. The Sharks’ away record in 2017 also provides confidence, having won eight of their 10 games on the road.
However, of their last five visits to Townsville, they have emerged victorious only once. That win two years ago came when Thurston was absent too, something which could be a key factor. Their vastly superior offload game could prove pivotal while their strong defensive record also stands them in good stead.
The Sharks may, however, have to cut out their errors out and reduce their penalty count, while their attack has struggled to hit the heights of last season. This statistic is something that needs improving as the other Premiership contenders are currently strong at both ends.
The Cowboys will throw the kitchen sink at the Sharks but the reigning Premiers should be able to absorb the pressure to reclaim a top four spot with victory. Sharks by 2.
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