Whatever the result in Saturday’s Team 1 vs Team 4 Round 24 National Youth Competition match between the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys and the visiting Cronulla Sharks, you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be some points on offer.
In what would by any measure be the match of the round in this exciting pathways competition, both teams are in the midst of purple patches of form.
The Sharks (18 wins, two losses, one draw) are riding a 16-game unbeaten streak and have not been beaten since Round 4, while the young Cowboys (13 wins, eight losses) have racked up big scores to be unbeaten in their past four matches.
In fact, a quick snapshot of both teams’ recent form gives a good insight into their dominance.
The Sharks have put the Broncos (40-12), Raiders (58-22), Warriors (42-4) and Rabbitohs (40-14) to the sword in the past month, which equates to 180 points scored and 52 conceded for a +128 differential.
The Cowboys have been slightly more impressive with wins over the Panthers (40-16), Storm (50-6), Roosters (34-30) and Warriors (70-10) for a +132 differential (194 scored, 62 conceded).
The Cowboys know that the Sharks will be formidable opponents, but the team has the mighty carrot of a top four finish to the regular season – and the double chance in the finals which comes with that – dangling tantalisingly in front of them.
“We’ve been playing well and last week against a very good side in Penrith, we were outstanding to win by a good margin,” Cowboys Under-20s coach Aaron Payne said this week.
“But, we’ll need to turn it up another level against the Sharks, who have tremendous momentum and have put some big scores on teams this year.”
A regular in the side since Round 10, livewire fullback Kalyn Ponga will be a noticeable absence for Payne on Saturday, the young flyer called back into Paul Green’s NRL team as the first-grade Cowboys confront the worst injury toll seen at the club in recent memory.
Nathan Traill has been recalled into Payne’s side after being kept out in recent weeks, with barnstorming front-rower Emry Pere back after a lengthy injury layoff.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 5.10pm – gates open at 1300SMILES Stadium at 5pm.