After being on the road since notching up his 250th game, the Sharks will celebrate the special milestone for skipper Paul Gallen when he runs out for his 253rd appearance tomorrow when his team tackles the Cowboys at Remondis Stadium.
The game also marks his 100th as an NRL coach for Shane Flanagan, while Indigenous Round festivities, in particular those centering around RECOGNISE and the campaign to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian constitution, points to a big day for all concerned.
However waiting to spoil the Sharks party is the man touted as the World’s best player and a future rugby league immortal in Johnathan Thurston, supported by a Cowboys team sailing along at the top of the NRL ladder.
The Sharks have devoted a portion of their pre-match video preparations towards Thurston, but as Flanagan explained, the focus hasn’t all been about the star number seven.
“The more you preview the Johnathan Thurston show the more you can cast a spell over your own team,” Flanagan said. “They can run out and sit back and watch the show unfold. So you can’t do that.
“We’ll make sure we’ve got a plan and we’ll go out and work towards that.”
Flanagan also noted that while the Cowboys were justifiably rated amongst the premiership heavy weights, he wanted his team to worry more about what they could deliver rather than what the opposition might bring to Saturday’s game.
“It’s a real good challenge for us to play a tough team. But we need to concentrate on Cronulla and to not get caught up in the hype around the Cowboys,” Flanagan added.
While the Cowboys will arrive at Remondis at close to full strength, the Sharks go into the match without the services of Luke Lewis and the Fifita brothers Andrew and David.
Thurston is back in the North Queensland team after missing the first Sharks v Cowboys bout some six weeks ago, while to somewhat fill the void left by their three omissions, Gallen adds the special brand of leadership last time around.
Flanagan tried to downplay the significance of the changes, believing the Sharks had the depth to cover for those missing this weekend’s match
“It’s all about the squad, it’s not about the individuals within the team. Andrew’s out, Gallen’s in and someone else gets an opportunity,” Flanagan said.
“Tinirau Arona come onto our bench and he did a good job for us against the Warriors last week.”
Currently fifth, the Sharks will certainly get a reality check as to their finals credentials against a Cowboys outfit sitting equal first after winning 15 of their last 16 matches.
Ironically the only Cowboys loss along the way came against the Sharks in a match played in Townsville where the visitors came from 18-points down to claim a thrilling 24-18 triumph.
The last time the two teams met at Remondis the Cowboys managed a 36-18 win back in 2014, with the last three meetings held in the Sutherland Shire going the way of North Queensland. It is certainly a trend the Sharks hope to end tomorrow evening.
“We’d like to think we perform well at home. Our form over the last couple of months, especially at home, has been great,” Flanagan said.
The Sharks v Cowboys clash is scheduled for a 5.30pm kick-off at Remondis Stadium tomorrow night, with the NYC match getting underway at 3.15pm.
In between the two games the Sharks will celebrate Indigenous Round with a special Touch Football game between ‘Shire Touch All Stars’ who will play the NSW Indigenous All Stars, an Acknowledgement of Country from renowned Country Music singer Col Hardy and a didgeridoo performance from Sharks NYC player Jaden Clarke.
The Cronulla Sharks Round 22 ‘Indigenous Round’ clash with the North Queensland Cowboys is proudly brought to you by Sutherland Heart Clinic.
NRL Team List – round 22
Sharks v Cowboys
Saturday, August 8
Kick-off – 5.30pm
1 Michael Gordon
2 Sosaia Feki
3 Gerard Beale
4 Ricky Leutele
5 Valentine Holmes
6 Jack Bird
7 Jeff Robson
8 Chris Heighington
9 Michael Ennis
10 Sam Tagataese
11 Anthony Tupou
12 Wade Graham
13 Paul Gallen ©
14 Ben Barba
15 Matt Prior
16 Tinirau Arona
17 Jayson Bukuya
18 Junior Roqica