A makeshift but improving Cowboys head back down to Sydney after taking care of the Bulldogs last Thursday night. The Sharks remain in town after a rather brutal clash with the Dragons. The Cowboys have a fear of Sharks, you have to go back to July 2014 to find the last time the Cowboys overcame Cronulla in Sydney. Will the Cowboys actually play JT,  or are they just playing with Cronulla’s minds?

Last Time Out

Cronulla was the early game on Friday night, leaving Jubilee Oval with the points with a three try to two win. Looks good on the surface, but while Shane Flanagan would have been praising their defensive effort, he will be concerned by the lack of ball control after fourteen errors and on a 68% completion rate. With the Dragons without Dugan and Widdop, and completing 92% of sets, it was an unlucky Dragons side who walked off the park. Either of these players could have made a significant difference, but you can only play with who is available.

All three tries for the Sharks came through their backline. Extending and exploiting the reshuffled Dragons is clever football, and when combined with a defensive record that averages 13.2 points per game was enough for the win.

The Cowboys went down to ANZ Stadium, against a Bulldogs team that was on a bit of a hot streak, their surprise loss to the Tigers was more than ignored as they had won four of their last five including wins at home against the Broncos and Raiders. With players missing and a stuttering attack, few picked the Cowboys.

Proving that all the stats do not matter, the Cowboys put up 30 points for only the fourth time since the start of August 2016. A very surprising number for a team known for their attack. The beauty of this scoreline was that it happened from both the forwards and the backs, including a double to Coen Hess. With Ray Thompson moving into the halfback role, the Cowboys suddenly looked like they could move forward, something greatly missing due to the injury to Thurston.

Key Battle

With the suspension of Matt Prior for a shoulder charge the Bulldogs will require a lot out of his replacement. None of the bench last weekend put in more than 19 minutes and the step up may catch the Sharkies out. With this in mind, I am looking at Taumalolo, Hess and Captain Gavin Cooper to be the difference makers for the Cowboys. After the loss of Scott, the Cowboys lost their motor in the middle, rather than repeat the role of the replacement, the Cowboys have shared the roles. Taumalolo’s numbers have dropped, but in recent weeks the numbers from the Forwards as a group have begun to lift. The three named players are going to be the key for the Cowboys if they are to be in this contest.

The Shark’s will be looking for James Maloney to bounce back from a disappointing performance even though they won the game. Missed tackles were his main sin, but he also did not seem to be “in” the game like he would normally be. With Origin coming up, his chances to impress are coming down and with this in mind, it would not surprise me to see him have either a blinder or a tragedy. Cronulla fans will be hoping for a return of form.

How they will win

For the Sharks, they will need to keep up their excellent defence. It has led them up the ladder and stymied many of the games better attacking units, keeping the Storm to two points is not meant to happen. Now with the Cowboys coming to town, they will need to keep the efforts, but look to control their discipline as giving away seven penalties may have a bigger effect against a team that is settled in its line-ups. At home, against a team that is travelling to Sydney twice in the last two games, they should, with a more disciplined performance, take care of business.

North Queensland will need to continue on with their efforts from last Thursday night. In a surprise move, they have named Captain Johnathon Thurston in the first team list. His return would be extraordinary given that he was written off for the season, then 4 -6 weeks and yet now back after only missing one game since his return for Australia in the test. The team has been significantly disrupted by injury, and now, after a number of games with major changes, the line-up is more settled and working well as a team.

Do they risk JT, or take the 17 from last weekend and give him a bit longer to comeback? If I was his coach I would have him sit out this week and next, miss Origin 1 and then return. Well rested and with a bit more time to help his shoulder recover. The Cowboys may have given up a lot of points, but that number is less relevant as they held a strong Bulldogs side to just 14 points. It was a return to the scrooge-like defence that Paul Green bases his teams on. Combined with the forwards putting in the yards, they could look to again surprising their favoured opponent.

Prediction

My heart favours the Cowboys, I am an unashamed supporter and believe that they could walk away with the two points. However, if I was a betting man, the Shark’s would be my tip. It may not be pretty but they should take the game by the same number of points they will go up the ladder. Sharks by 2.

Squads

Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Jack Bird, 4. Ricky Leutele, 5. Gerard Beale,
6. James Maloney, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Chris Heighington,11. Luke Lewis, 12. Wade Graham, 13. Paul Gallen (c),
Interchange from: 14. Kurt Capewell,15. Jayson Bukuya, 16. Jeremy Latimore,
17. Sam Tagataese, 19. Daniel Mortimer, 20. Edrick Lee, 21. Kurt Dillon.

Cowboys: 1. Lachlan Coote, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Justin O’Neill, 4. Kane Linnett,
5. Antonio Winterstein, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Ray Thompson, 8. John Asiata,
9. Jake Granville, 10. Scott Bolton, 11. Gavin Cooper (c), 12. Ethan Lowe,
13. Jason Taumalolo,
Interchange from: 14. Ben Hampton, 15. Coen Hess, 16. Shaun Fensom, 17. Ben Spina, 18. Joseph Paulo, 18. Kyle Laybutt, 19. Johnathan Thurston, 20. Corey Jensen,
21. Kalyn Ponga,