Cowboys v Sharks
7.50pm, Thursday 18 May
Southern Cross Group Stadium
The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys will enter arguably the National Rugby League’s most hostile environment tonight when the Sharks play hosts to kick off Round 11.
Following Round 10’s confidence-building 30-14 win over the Bulldogs in Sydney, the Cowboys will need to go up another level again against the reigning premiers, whose title defence is rolling along with seven wins from 10 games.
The Cowboys have six wins and four losses to sit in sixth on the ladder and, aside from the on-field challenges, will have to cope with a frenetic 18th man in the form of a hostile Southern Cross Group Stadium crowd.
“We’ve gone down a little bit earlier than normal to prepare, we’ve been in a mini-camp type situation and we’ll be ready on Thursday night,” head coach Paul Green said.
“As expected there’ll be no favours from the crowd.”
HAND HIM THE MIKE
Green was as proud as anyone around the club last week with the performance of exciting five-eighth and incumbent State of Origin super-sub Michael Morgan.
Morgan – down on form and confidence in recent weeks – had a wow of a game against the Bulldogs, scoring a try, laying a hand in the team’s other four four-pointers and being a menace with ball in hand.
His kicking game was also on-song, with his four try assists all coming from kicks, the first of which was a sublime cross-field kick to lay Kyle Feldt’s first try for the year on a platter.
“I’m so pleased for Morgs. He showed what he’s capable of and he would have gained a great deal of confidence from that performance,” Green said.
Green was adamant there would be no collective weight hanging around his team’s neck out of last year’s 32-20 preliminary final loss to the Sharks, the result stopping the Cowboys' premiership defence squarely in its tracks.
But he did admit that individual players may have it on their minds if they thought their own performances weren’t up to scratch in their own eyes.
GAL VERSUS THE HULK
It’s the quintessential NRL warrior versus the future in an intriguing match-up of No.13s tonight.
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen, 35, has seen it all, won it all and stood toe-to-toe with the best forwards in the game over a rugged 17-year NRL career.
He’ll give and ask for no quarter on the field and will do anything to help his team … including standing in the way of the NRL’s most destructive ball runner in his Cowboys opposite Jason Taumalolo.
The 24-year-old powerhouse will be a Cowboy for life – when his next contract runs out he’ll be approaching Gallen’s age.
With so much expectation on a young tyro who regularly runs over 200m a match, you could forgive Taumalolo for blinking at times.
But he never does, never shirks the challenges and taming the ageing beast in Gallen on Thursday night will be just another task for the youngster.
Savvy Cowboys No.1 Lachlan Coote is in his second match back from a calf injury that saw him miss six of seven games.
While solid if not spectacular against the Bulldogs last round, Coote’s organisational nous and talk undoubtedly helped guys like Morgan play at their full potential.
Coote is the master of the heads-up play, and his clear decision-making under pressure will go a long way to helping the Cowboys succeed tonight.
TALE OF THE TAPE
- Head to head: Played 41 – Sharks 25, Cowboys 16; at Southern Cross Group Stadium – played 17: Sharks 12, Cowboys 5
- Biggest head-to-head wins: Sharks def Cowboys 42-6 in 2000; Cowboys def Sharks 56-14 in 2005
- Points for in 2017: Sharks 200, Cowboys 199
- Points against: Sharks 132, Cowboys 204
- Tries: Sharks 33, Cowboys 33
- Tries conceded: Sharks 20, Cowboys 35