Andrew Pelechaty previews the Round 18 opener between North Queensland and Cronulla-Sutherland …
North Queensland Cowboys Vs Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Date: Friday July 15, 6:00pm
MATCHDAY TEAM NEWS
Related: NRL Team List TuesdayEmbed from Getty Images
Cowboys: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 4. Peta Hiku 5. Brendan Elliot 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 9. Reece Robson 10. Coen Hess 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Connelly Lemuelu 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Jake Granville 15. Luciano Leilua 16. Ben Hampton 17. Griffin Neame 18. Tomas Chester 19. Emry Pere 20. Kane Bradley 21. Ben Condon 22. Riley Price
Tom Dearden and Tom Gilbert are set to back up after Origin III, with Valentine Holmes and Jeremiah Nanai rested. Connelly Lemuelu also returns.Embed from Getty Images
Sharks: 1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Connor Tracey 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Toby Rudolf 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Royce Hunt 11. Teig Wilton 12. Wade Graham 13. Dale Finucane 14. Aiden Tolman 15. Cameron McInnes 16. Braden Hamlin-Uele 17. Andrew Fifita 18. Braydon Trindall 19. Jesse Colquhoun 20. Kade Dykes 21. Siosifa Talakai 22. Lachlan Miller
Nicho Hynes and Toby Rudolf are back from COVID-19 absences. Briton Nikora (suspension) has been replaced by Teig Wilton.
Referee: Adam Gee
This shapes as the match of the round between two top four contenders. It’s a shame it’s wasted in the awkward 6pm Friday slot: it would have been the perfect prime-time game.
North Queensland have surprised everyone with their wonderful 2022, and have been rewarded with nine players in the Queensland and New South Wales Origin squads (Valentine Holmes, Murray Tuilagi, Jordan McLean, Jeremiah Nanai, Reuben Cotter, Tom Gilbert, Thomas Dearden, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Reece Robson). Melbourne’s loss to the Sharks helped vault the Cowboys (given two points for the bye) into second.
More importantly, the Cowboys are making Queensland Country Bank Stadium a fortress (six wins and two losses). If they can stay in the top four, they’ll get at least one home final, and will have eyes on a preliminary final.
After a few seasons of either squeezing into the eight or just missing out, the Sharks have become a surprise top four side, sitting in fourth after their win over Melbourne. While they had heavy losses to Canberra (Magic Round), and the Roosters (Round 12), they’ve won four in a row since (and gotten two bye points), silencing any concerns about a late-season collapse.
Their fairly light Origin representation and kind draw will help them push for the double chance: after playing the Cowboys and Penrith, they only play two more current top eight teams (South Sydney and St George Illawarra) heading to the finals. With Brisbane and Parramatta just two points behind them, the Sharks need to win most of these “winnable” games.
This is the first time the Cowboys and Sharks have played in 2022: the Sharks won the last clash (26-24) in Round 15, 2021 in Townsville.
The big factor here is the Cowboys’ home ground advantage. They haven’t lost at QCB since Round 4, with five straight wins since then. Depending on what happens Wednesday night, the Cowboys’ Queensland contingent will either be in the mood to celebrate or keen for revenge. Either way, it could mean trouble for the Sharks.Embed from Getty Images
The Cowboys and Sharks played one of the most controversial finals matches in 2013. The Sharks’ opening try (to Beau Ryan) came from a seven-tackle set and they won 20-18 to end the Cowboys’ season.
The Cowboys got their revenge in 2015 – belting the Sharks 39-0 in Townsville – on their way to a maiden premiership, and 2017: winning 15-14 in Sydney, with Michael Morgan kicking a Golden Point field goal to knock the Sharks out and kickstart the Cowboys’ magical grand final run.
Cowboys by six.
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