Venue:1300 Smiles Stadium
Home Team 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 19 Ray Thompson.
Away Team 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.
In a repeat of the infamous “7 Tackle Try” game that ended the Cowboys season in 2013, the North Queensland Cowboys and the Cronulla Sharks will once again face off in an elimination final, with the winner to be just one more game away from a Grand Final berth.
On paper, the Sharks look to have the advantage heading into this clash, as they were dominating last week against the reigning premiers the Rabbitohs, winning 28-12. Although the Cowboys failed to claim victory against the Broncos, they were extremely impressive, going down by just 4 points in one of the games of the season.
The two sides have met twice in 2015, with the Cronulla team earning the win on both occasions. The Sharks appear to hold the wood over the Cowboys, as it was the boys from the Shire who ended the Cowboys remarkable 11 game winning streak back in Round 16, with an impressive 24-18 victory, despite trailing 18-0 at halftime.
Following his 4th RLPA Players Player of the Year award this week, Cowboys maestro Jonathan Thurston will be desperate to keep his teams finals hopes alive, as a premiership victory with the Cowboys will undoubtedly secure his spot as an Immortal, and quite possibly be enough for him to be considered as the best to ever play the game.
Thurston will come up against experienced Sharks halfback Jeff Robson, whose strong kicking game last week put the Rabbitohs on the back foot, and earned his team several repeat sets. The battle of the halves will also see two young guns come head to head, as rookie of the year favourite Jack Bird will face off against Michael Morgan, who survived his return from injury last week.
The barnstorming forward packs of each team will also be vital to victory for the two sides. The Sharks possess the size and strength of the likes of Andrew Fifita, Sam Tagatese, Paul Gallen, and Anthony Tupou, as well as the mobility and skill of Wade Graham and Luke Lewis, which gives the Cronulla side plenty of potency in attack.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have their own powerhouses in James Tamou, Matt Scott, and Jason Taumalolo, while Gavin Cooper’s combination with Jonathan Thurston could prove to be a game breaker for the Cowboys on the left edge.
If the game is to come down to the wire, which could be likely given the do or die aspect of this clash, both JT and Sharks young gun Valentine Holmes have shown numerous times this season that they have the composure and ability to slot a field goal and secure victory.
The Sharks have done a tremendous job in 2015 to turn their form around, following the wooden spoon in 2014. However, with the home crowd on their side, and the best player in the world desperate for victory, the Cowboys should be able to just hold onto victory in a tight affair.
Prediction Cowboys by 6