Johnathan Thurston | Photo: Scott Davis © NRL Photos

Cowboys v Sharks PREVIEW

CRONULLA SHARKS v NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS
7pm, Monday 13 June, Southern Cross Group Stadium

Referees: Gerard Sutton, Adam Gee
Review officials: Bernard Sutton, Ben Galea, Jason Robinson
Touch judges: Nick Beashel, Rohan Best

Cowboys: 3rd (nine wins, four losses): 18 points
Sharks: 1st (10 wins, 2 losses, 1 bye): 22 points


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, 18 John Asiata. Coach: Paul Green.

Sharks: 1 Ben Barba, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Jack Bird, 4 Gerard Beale, 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 Ricky Leutele, 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Jayson Bukuya 17 Joseph Paulo. Coach: Shane Flanagan.


CASUALTY WARD

Cowboys: Sam Hoare (knee/shoulder) – season; Kalyn Ponga (shoulder) – Round 17; Kyle Laybutt (arm) – Round 18; Ray Thompson (knee) – Round 18

Sharks: Matt Prior (knee) – indefinite


MATCH FACTS

  • Cronulla have the edge in head-to-head battles between the sides, winning 23 of 39 encounters.

  • Cronulla won 13 of the first 14 matches between the sides, but the Cowboys have clawed back some ground in recent times.

  • The Sharks have an 11-5 advantage at their home ground.

  • The Cowboys have won the past two matches between the sides, including a 20-14 triumph in Round 1. The Cowboys have won five of the past eight matches between the teams.

  • In terms of biggest wins between the sides, the Sharks downed the Cowboys 42-6 in 2000 while the boys from NQ returned serve 56-14 in 2005.

  • The Sharks have won their past nine games, including Monday night’s 20-18 thriller over the Bulldogs.

  • The Cowboys boast the second-best attack in the comp, having scored 356 points over 13 games.

  • The Sharks and the Cowboys have the equal third-best defence in the NRL, conceding 188 points, while the Cowboys boast the overall best points differential with +166. The Sharks are third on this front with +133.

  • The Cowboys score an overwhelming number of their tries from close range (0-20m out), with 45 of the 60 scored in 2016 fitting the bill.

  • They’ve scored just one long-range (51-100m) try so far this year, while the Sharks have scored nine of their 54 four-pointers from this distance.

  • Both teams score an average of five tries per match while the Cowboys concede two and the Sharks three.

  • Sharks winger Valentine Holmes has made 13 line breaks in 12 games this season, scoring 11 tries.

  • Holmes is the outright top try-scorer in the NRL, while Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt is one of four players with 10 tries, to be in equal second.

  • Cowboys custodian Lachlan Coote is leading the way in the comp with last-line-of-defence tackles, having made six this year.

  • The Cowboys have three players – Coote (10), Michael Morgan (10) and Johnathan Thurston (13) – in the top seven for try assists.

  • Holmes in the NRL’s intercept king with three this year.

  • James Tamou, John Asiata and Ben Hannant are the three Cowboys in the team named to take on the Sharks who haven’t scored tries this year.

MATCH UPS – O’NEILL v BIRD   

Slick Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill stood tall in his State of Origin debut for the Maroons last week, and backed up that effort with a solid showing against the Knights in his team’s comfortable Round 13 win.

The North Queensland product will face a sterner test against the Sharks on Monday night, and his duel with Jack Bird could be a feature of the match.

Bird is a NSW Blues player in waiting and, alongside the majority of this in-form team, has been in nice touch in 2016.

O’Neill is a fast and explosive player and won’t need a second invitation to breach the Sharks’ defence, while Bird is part of a creative backline featuring exciting Townsville product Valentine Holmes and Mackay’s Ben Barba, who is in the midst of a career resurgence.


FINAL WORD

Cowboys head coach Paul Green: “We’ve been fairly consistent with the team that we’ve been able to pick for a long time now, and we’ve been winning games as well.”

Sharks winger Valentine Holmes: “I reckon we can do up the Cowboys here. We’re on a high.”