The Cowboys threw some uncertainty into Sharks preparations when Johnathan Thurston boarded the plane with the rest of his team yesterday heading for Sydney.
Injured playing for the Kangaroos two weeks ago, Thurston was expected to spend an extended period on the sidelines with a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder, however his naming on the team sheet on Tuesday and the fact that he will be in Sydney tomorrow makes for an interesting build up to the Sharks v Cowboys game tomorrow night.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan had his doubts that Thurston would play, however they would prepare for all contingencies.
“A lot of our players know what Johnathan is about. We’ve played them in finals and twice each of the last couple of years,” Flanagan said.
“I don’t want to read too much into it, but I think it would be a longshot. If it’s been diagnosed correctly it’s only been 10 days (since the injury).
“Paul Green won’t turn him out and Johnathan Thurston isn’t going to play if he isn’t 100 per cent fit. But you never know with Johnathan, he is a tough bugger,” Flanagan added.
However, with or without Thurston, the North Queensland side still shapes as a formidable one, with a number of representative calibre players and the majority of the squad that was successful in winning the premiership in 2015.
The first task for the Sharks will be stopping the go-forward provided by lock Jason Taumalolo, while Michael Morgan returned to his best in his teams win over the Bulldogs last week.
Gavin Cooper and Ethan Lowe form a potent back row combination, with Justin O’Neill and Kane Linnett a solid centre partnership.
On the flip side, this Sharks team may not have reached the peaks of 2016 at this early stage of the season but are sitting second on the NRL ladder for a reason, doing enough to get across the line in some close games as they sit second on the competition table.
The Dragons match last weekend may have been the perfect example of the way the Sharks have performed in 2017, with too many errors for the liking of Flanagan but displaying enough class and composure when it mattered to get their seventh win of the current campaign.
In the one team change for the Sharks, Matt Prior is unavailable due to a one week suspension, his place in the starting side taken by Chris Heighington, with the experienced forward returning after a week out due to a family issue.
The bench on the other hand is still up in the air, with Daniel Mortimer and Joseph Paulo training with the team today and in contention to fill a utility spot in the Sharks 17.
There are no injury concerns with the other players selected in the Sharks squad.
The match also represents the last chance for players to impress prior to State of Origin selection, with Jack Bird, James Maloney, Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham in contention for the NSW side and Valentine Holmes for Queensland.
Flanagan has narrowed his squad list down from 21 to 19, with those selected in 1-17, plus the addition of Joseph Paulo and Daniel Mortimer. He will make a final decision as to the make up of his team one hour before tomorrow’s scheduled kick off.
The Sharks v Cowboys match is due to get underway at 7.50pm at Southern Cross Group Stadium tomorrow (Thursday) night.
NRL Team List – Round 11
Sharks v Cowboys
Thursday, May 18
Southern Cross Group Stadium
Kick-off – 7.50pm
1 Valentine Holmes
2. Sosaia Feki
3 Jack Bird
4 Ricky Leutele
5 Gerard Beale
6 James Maloney
7 Chad Townsend
8 Andrew Fifita
9 Jayden Brailey
10 Chris Heighington
11 Luke Lewis
12 Wade Graham
13 Paul Gallen
14 Kurt Capewell
15 Jayson Bukuya
16 Jeremy Latimore
17 Sam Tagataese
18 Joseph Paulo
19 Daniel Mortimer