FINALS: Cowboys v Sharks PREVIEW!

NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS v CRONULLA SHARKS
Saturday, 19 September, 7.40pm
1300SMILES Stadium
Referee
: Gerard Sutton
Assistant referee: Gavin Badger
Video referees: Ashley Klein and Luke Patten
Touch judges: Steve Carrall and Brett Suttor

TEAMS

Cowboys:  1. Lachlan Coote, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Justin O’Neill, 4. Kane Linnett, 5. Antonio Winterstein, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Johnathan Thurston (c), 8. Matt Scott (c), 9. Jake Granville, 10. James Tamou, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Ethan Lowe, 13. Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14. Rory Kostjasyn, 15. John Asiata, 16. Scott Bolton, 17. Ben Hannant, 19. Ray Thompson.

Sharks: 1. Michael Gordon, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Gerard Beale, 4. Ricky Leutele, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Jack Bird, 7. Jeff Robson, 8. Chris Heighington, 9. Michael Ennis, 10. Sam Tagataese, 11. Luke Lewis, 12. Wade Graham, 13. Paul Gallen (c). Interchange: 14. Ben Barba, 15. Anthony Tupou, 16. Andrew Fifita, 17. Jayson Bukuya, 18. Matt Prior.

MATCH FACTS

  • In 37 matches between the team, the Sharks hold the edge 23-14, including two wins this year. A 24-18 win at 1300SMILES Stadium in Round 16 was followed by a 30-18 results at Remondis Stadium in Round 22.
  • Despite Cronulla’s recent winning form over the Cowboys, North Queensland have won five of the past eight clashes between the sides.
  • The Sharks hold an 11-9 edges in matches played in Townsville.
  • The Cowboys’ biggest win over Cronulla was a 56-14 triumph in Townsville in 2005, while the Sharks downed the Cowboys 42-6 at Toyota Park in 2000.
  • The surnames of all four men named on Cronulla’s bench end in a vowel.
  • If the Cowboys maintained exactly their 2015 points scored-points conceded rate, they will win 24-19. If the Sharks were to do the same, the game would be a 20-all draw.
  • After starting their 2015 campaign with four straight losses, the Sharks have won 15 of their next 19 matches, including a five-match winning streak.
  • The Cowboys have scored 103 tries to Cronulla’s 81 tries in 2015.
  • The Cowboys have kicked five field goals this year, four to Johnathan Thurston and one to Lachlan Coote. The Sharks have kicked three, all to Valentine Holmes.
  • Dangerous Sharks hooker Michael Ennis had two try assists last weekend in his team’s impressive elimination final win over the Rabbitohs.
  • Sharks skipper Paul Gallen had 25 hit-ups against South Sydney. He has 393 hit-ups/runs in 2015, the third best for that category, behind the Roosters’ Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (5637) and Melbourne’s Jesse Bromwich (408).
  • Ennis receives the ball the most in the NRL in 2015, with 2637 receives, most coming out of dummy-half.
  • Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston is third in the NRL for goal-kicking, with an 81% success rate, placing him behind Raider Jarrod Croker (85%) and Rooster James Maloney (82%).
  • Thurston has 256 kicks in general play for the season, second behind Broncos maestro Ben Hunt (319).

MATCH-UPS –The benches        

In a study of contrasts, the team’s respective benches threaten to have a real impact on the outcome of this one. The Sharks have 2012 Dally M Medal winner Ben Barba at their disposal, the livewire utility poised to cause trouble around the rucks for tired Cowboys forwards at the end of each half. Add to that mobile forwards Andrew Fifita and Anthony Tupou and the Sharks’ second unit takes on a dangerous, attacking quality. Tough runner Jayson Bukuya completes a dangerous Sharks bench, which will look to add dynamism and explosive running through the middle third. By contrast, the Cowboys have a more traditional bench with a genuine backup hooker in Rory Kostjasyn, whose reliable service and stoic defence the team value highly. Interchange props Ben Hannant and Scott Bolton will provide valued respite for starting bookends James Tamou and Matt Scott while ball-playing backrower John Asiata adds variety and shapes as a potential impact player either side of halftime.

FINAL WORD

Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys co-captain):  “Everyone’s very excited … it’s a home semi-final which is what we wanted, (but) it probably came a week earlier than everybody would have liked.”

Jayson Bukuya (Sharks interchange forward): “It’s always a tough trip up there, but we’ll look to start well and put our best foot forward.”

CASUALTY WARD

COWBOYS: Tautau Moga (knee); Hezron Murgha (knee) - indefinite

SHARKS: Fa’amanu Brown (knee) - indefinite; Kyle Stanley (knee); Jacob Gagan (Achilles) – season.