Digital Image by Anthony Johnson copyright © nrlphotos.com:  Ricky Leutele : 2015 NRL Round 15 -   Newcastle Knights vs Cronulla Sharks at Hunter Stadium Sunday June 21st 2015

NRL PREVIEW | Sharks v Cowboys

While Sharks skipper Paul Gallen has been ruled out, mystery continues to surround the omission of Johnathan Thurston for the game to be played at 1300SMILES Stadium tomorrow night.

Gallen’s rib cartilage injury continues to improve, however it failed to recover in time for Saturday night’s match and the non-selection of Thurston only adds to the Sharks wariness prior to the match.

The man responsible for steering the Cowboys to many of their 11 wins in succession this season, Thurston is being rested by Coach Paul Green due a relatively minor shoulder issue and to also protect against burn-out during the current State of Origin period.

While their star number seven may well be missing when the teams run out on Saturday, Sharks Coach Shane Flanagan explains the Cowboys have an able replacement waiting in the wings.

“The Cowboys haven’t named Thurston, arguably the best player in our game at present, but they replace him with another origin standard player in Michael Morgan who has been outstanding this year as JT’s halves partner,” Flanagan said in his weekly column in the Leader Newspaper.

“They also have a number of players that are somewhat under-estimated outside of Queensland, in particular Gavin Cooper and hooker Jake Granville, two players we will be marking heavily Saturday night.

“On the back of Thurston, Morgan, the two I just mentioned and their three rep forwards in (Matt) Scott, (Jason) Taumalolo and (James) Tamou, the Cowboys are setting the pace at this point in the season.”

However despite conceding the trip to Townsville will be a daunting one, Flanagan was also confident his troops would head north in the right frame of mind to cause an upset over the second placed North Queensland side.

“Playing the Cowboys away in Townsville, especially in the form they are in currently, riding an 11 game winning streak is a huge challenge but one we are looking forward to,” he said. “Playing quality teams such as the Cowboys often brings the best out of teams and I expect that to be the case on Saturday night.”

One thing in the Sharks favour is a reasonable record in matches played against the Cowboys at 1300SMILES, with the visitors having claimed 10 victories in the 18 matches played.

Overall, in 35 games between the two clubs, the Sharks also hold the advantage having taken the points on 21 occasions.

The last time the two teams met the Cowboys snuck home against an injury-devastated Sharks side, a Thurston field goal in extra time proving the difference.

The Sharks v Cowboys clash is set down for a 5.30pm kick-off in Townsville tomorrow night (Saturday), with the match to be shown live on Fox Sports.