NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS v CRONULLA SHARKS
Saturday 5 March, 1300SMILES Stadium
Referees: Ben Cummins, Adam Devcich
Review officials: Ben Galea, Jason Robinson
Touch judges: Michael Wise, Belinda Sleeman
Broadcast: Fox Sports, 4TOFM Call Team
Cowboys: Premiers – defeated Brisbane Broncos 17-16 in 2015 Grand Final. Finished regular season in third place on the ladder (17 wins, 7 losses): 38 points (2 byes).
Sharks: Bundled out of finals by Cowboys in Week 2. Finished regular season in sixth place on the ladder (14 wins, 10 losses): 32 points (2 byes).
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 Matthew 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. Coach: Paul Green.
Sharks: 1 Ben Barba, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Jack Bird, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Valentine Holmes, 6 James Maloney, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Michael Ennis, 10 Sam Tagataese, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Paul Gallen (c). Interchange: 14 Chris Heighington, 15 Matt Prior, 16 David Fifita, 17 Jayson Bukuya. Coach: Shane Flanagan.
- In an intriguing match-up to start the year, the Sharks return to the very venue that ended their 2015 season after the Cowboys put them to the sword 39-0 in week 2 of the finals. The Cowboys have the same team playing this Saturday that dominated the Sharks in the finals, while Cronulla will field 13 out of the 17 from that forgettable night.
- The Sharks defeated the Cowboys twice last season, home and away, including a 24-18 triumph at 1300SMILES Stadium in Round 16.
- In the 38 matches played between the sides, Cronulla have won 23 to North Queensland’s 15.
- North Queensland co-captain Johnathan Thurston requires six points to become only the eighth player to score 1,800 points at premiership level.
- Thurston is also approaching the milestone of 1,000 points at 1300SMILES Stadium. He has currently scored 959 points and can move closer to the tally in the Cowboys’ clash with Cronulla in Round 1.
- The Cowboys’ biggest win over the Sharks was a 56-14 result in Townsville in 2005. The Sharks downed the Cowboys 42-6 at Toyota Park in 2000.
- The Cowboys have won five of the past eight clashes between the sides.
MATCH UPS – Jason Taumalolo v Paul Gallen
It’s the apprentice taking on the master in a fascinating mid-field duel. Gallen will go down as one of the great NRL forward warriors when he finally calls time on his storied career, which is entering its 16th season.
His uncompromising on-field attitude and lead-by-example ethos inspires teammates and wears opponents out, so his duel with aggressive young bull Taumalolo will be compelling viewing.
Only 23, but entering a seventh NRL season, Taumalolo, at his best, is one of the most destructive ball-runners in the game. How he handles an experienced, aggressive Sharks pack led by Gallen will go a long way to determining who wins the forward battle.
Paul Green: On taking the same team from the 2015 Grand Final into Round 1, 2016 – “It’s good because you’re not starting from scratch in respect to some key combinations.”
Chris Heighington (Sharks forward): “They gave us a bit of a touch up in that semi- final, where the crowd was pretty wild, so we know what to expect.”
Cowboys: Tautau Moga (knee), Ray Thompson (ankle)
Sharks: Mitch Brown (ribs)