The first Friday night clash of the NRL season begins with a fiery meeting between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Cronulla Sharks in Townsville at 1300SMILES Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Cowboys coming into the first round of the season have shown mixed signals that they can back up the expectations that they are the favourites to win the premiership in 2018. A loss to Wests Tigers 30-16 and a last minute win against their grand final opponents Melbourne Storm 16-14 indicates the North Queensland sides trial form is hit and miss.
The Sharks have been impressive through both trials of their 2018 campaign winning against the Manly Sea Eagles 30-16 and defeating the Wests Tigers 24-12 with their new recruits looking impressive leading into round one.
The North Queensland side will be without fullback Lachlan Coote battling a hamstring injury which was carried into the testimonial game for JT and Cameron Smith. Ben Hampton will come into the side to play fullback in Cootes place while Kane Linnett who also went down injured in that trial with a pec injury will be replaced by Javid Bowen in the centres.
Cronulla have named Sione Katoa on their wing who will have his NRL debut against the Cowboys, beating Aaron Gray for the spot in the starting side.
The last meeting of these two clubs was in the first week of the 2017 finals series in an elimination final. The match was incredibly close with errors and penalties from both sides allowing each team to reply with points by their opposition throughout the game, the Sharks were in control for majority of the 80 minutes but a slip up in the second half through penalties allowed the Cowboys to tie at fulltime to go to extra time. The extra time period was capatlised by a mistake from Andrew Fifita coughing the ball up to allow Michael Morgan’s field goal in the first half of the extended period to win the Cowboys match.
Friday nights meeting between these sides will have a key battle between the halfbacks Chad Townsend and Johnathan Thurston both with big responsibilites to lead their team to a win in the opening round of the season.
The Sharks half in Townsend will have a new ownership of the team with veteran playmaker James Maloney swapping with his new half partner in Matt Moylan, the newly appointed pairing should be a dynamic force with fantastic ball playing and line running. The number seven for Cronulla will need to be more involved than ever marshalling the forwards around while setting up key plays if the side is to succeed. Townsend having a quiet 2017 will now have the in-play and conversion kicking duties upon him this season making the key factor of this matchup against one the best at both attributes in Thurston a difficult assignment.
Johnathan Thurston comes into this clash not having played in the compeition for over 6 months and will now strap on his boots to play his 300th game against a modern era rival in the Cronulla Sharks. JT will be battling lack of fitness and shaking off the rust of not playing in the high intensity matches because of his time out of the game. The Cowboys halfback will require a platform from his hard working forwards to allow a controlling kicking game to strangle the Sharks out of the match while unhinging his opposing half in Townsend to overplay his hand, making misjudgements and leading to a victory.
North Queensland playmaker Johnathan Thurston will play his 300th game and will return to the NRL for the first time since State of Origin Game 2 last season. The Cowboys halfback will also eclipse former teammate Matt Bowen for most games played for the club with 271 in his comeback.
Cowboys: 1. Ben Hampton, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Justin O’Neill, 4. Javid Bowen, 5. Antonio Winterstein, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Johnathan Thurston (c), 8. Matt Scott (c), 9. Jake Granville, 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Ethan Lowe, 13. Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14. Te Maire Martin, 15. Coen Hess, 16. Scott Bolton, 17. John Asiata. Reserves: 18. Corey Jensen, 19. Kyle Laybutt, 20. Francis Molo, 21. Enari Tuala
Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Josh Dugan, 4. Ricky Leutele, 5. Sione Katoa, 6. Matthew Moylan, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Matthew Prior, 11. Luke Lewis, 12. Wade Graham, 13. Paul Gallen (c). Interchange: 14. Jayson Bukuya, 15. James Segeyaro, 16. Avagalu Seumanufagai, 17. Joseph Paulo. Reserves: 18. Kurt Capewell, 19. Kurt Dillon, 20. Aaron Gray, 21. Trent Hodkinson
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 9th March
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
Kick-off: 7:05pm (Local Time)
Referee: Main referee: Gerard Sutton, Assistant referee: Chris Butler, Touch judges: Michael Wise, Belinda Sleeman.
WHO WILL WIN?
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