Elinya Chenery previews the qualifying final between Cronulla-Sutherland and North Queensland …
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Vs North Queensland Cowboys
Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Sydney
Date: Saturday September 10, 7:50pm
MATCHDAY TEAM NEWS
Related: NRL Team List TuesdayEmbed from Getty Images
Sharks: 1. Will Kennedy 2. Connor Tracey 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Siosifa Talakai 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Toby Rudolf 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Royce Hunt 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Dale Finucane 14. Teig Wilton 15. Cameron McInnes 16. Braden Hamlin-Uele 17. Andrew Fifita 18. Lachlan Miller 19. Aiden Tolman 20. Matt Ikuvalu 21. Jesse Colquhoun 22. Luke Metcalf
The home side gets a boost with the timely inclusions of Will Kennedy, Toby Rudolf, Dale Finucane, and Connor Tracey who are all returning from injury. Siosifa Talakai has so far overcome an ankle concern sustained late in the match versus Newcastle last Sunday, however his fitness will continue to be assessed throughout the week. Last weeks starting fullback, Lachlan Miller, has been named at 18th man and Andrew Fifita will celebrate his 250th NRL match.Embed from Getty Images
Cowboys: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Reuben Cotter 11. Luciano Leilua 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 15. Tom Gilbert 16. Coen Hess 17. Griffin Neame 18. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 19. Tomas Chester 20. Jake Granville 21. Brendan Elliot 22. Ben Hampton
Coen Hess returns from suspension, whilst the Cowboys’ 2022 Players Player recipient, Tom Dearden, has recovered from a testicle injury picked up last weekend. Dearden is alongside eight other North Queensland players that are making their NRL finals series debuts.
Referee: Adam Gee
The Saturday night match of the first round of finals is shaping up to be one of the contests of the year. With the NRL officially announcing on Tuesday that the game is already sold out, Cronulla’s round 25 victory over the Knights looks as though it may be more important than originally thought.
As was well documented in the lead up to the beginning of the finals series, these two teams were battling it out for second place-and the week one home ground advantage that came along with the position. With the Sharks doing enough to dismantle a struggling Newcastle side in the final round of the regular season, the Cowboys victory over a understrength Penrith outfit proved inconsequential in the final season rankings. This outcome is possibly the best and fairest it could have been, as the Cowboys’ were benefitting from the two points they received as the result of the round 19 match against the Tigers – a game in which the NRL eventually admitted should have ended with a Wests’ victory, and therefore, many fans believed the Cowboys should not have been as close to the Sharks as they ended up being. This means that the North Queensland side will be travelling to Cronulla to play in front of a sold-out PointsBet Stadium in winter conditions – a far cry to the humidity they’re used to in Townsville.
Both clubs are some of the most impressive success stories of the season. Neither team played in the finals series last year, with the Sharks finishing in ninth and the Cowboys narrowly avoiding the Wooden Spoon. The differences within the sides in season 2021 compared to season 2022 are clear, and a large part of both of the turnarounds – and sure to be a huge influence on the result of this match – resides with the new halfbacks. Nicho Hynes and Chad Townsend have been revelations for their sides this season, and despite playing different brands of footy, both number sevens have put on performances that have them well in the running for the renowned title of “Buy of the Year”. Townsend was a crucial part of the 2016 Cronulla side that secured the clubs maiden premiership and comes into this match up with extensive big game experience. Oppositely, despite being involved in finals campaigns during his time at the Melbourne Storm, Hynes will play his first finals match as a starting player and an all-important part of the teams spine.
The Sharks head into this match with six wins on the trot, last being defeated by the minor premiers in round 19. The Cowboys form on the other hand, is a different story. Despite convincingly beating a Panthers side that was missing 13 players last weekend, North Queensland have been going win-loss-win-loss through the final five rounds of the season. These two teams only met once in the regular season this year, back in round 18. On that day, the Sharks came away with the two points in a 26-12 victory at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, in a game in which Blayke Brailey was sin-binned for ill-discipline.
With neither team at risk of instant elimination if they lose this match, Cowboys coach Todd Payten has spoken about the feeling around the team and community leading up to the clash saying, “We need to perform at our best and we’re really excited about what lies ahead and finals are about who performs best on the night”. Flying Sharks winger Ronaldo Mulitalo has also expressed his own excitement heading into the game, stating that, “(he’s) sure the boys will get up for it as well this weekend”.Embed from Getty Images
Across the last three seasons, the Sharks have beaten the Cowboys five consecutive times. Curiously, three of these games have ended in Cronulla scoring exactly 26 points. This Saturdays match will mark the 50th meeting of these two clubs in the NRL era- will Cronulla be able to continue their run, or will the Cowboys get one back?
Sharks by 6.
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