It’s getting tight at the top with just three rounds of regular season remaining.
Top four spots, places in the eight, are all up for grabs and the Sharks face some crucial matches in the coming weeks in trying to consolidate their position and give themselves an opportunity to defend their NRL title.
And it all begins with their clash with the Cowboys on Saturday night, a game with serious finals implications for both teams.
There is no hiding from the fact the Sharks have been disappointing in recent weeks, however a win in Townsville has the potential to put them back on track with the finals series approaching.
“We’ve got three weeks now leading into the semis where we need to be playing at our best. We need to build and it’s a good opportunity against a good quality side and to start this week,” Sharks five eighth James Maloney said on the eve of his 200th NRL game.
The Sharks performances in recent weeks, the last start loss to the Broncos and the home ground defeat to the Raiders, were both marred by poor discipline and uncharacteristic defensive lapses, with Sharks halfback Chad Townsend explaining they have addressed the issues and are intent on turning things around tomorrow night against North Queensland.
“The last two weeks we haven’t played up to our standards, which is frustrating,” Townsend said. “We know what we are capable of, but we haven’t shown that. If we put a good 80 minutes together, we know we can beat anyone.
“We want to get back to us, to what our DNA is and to play the way we know we can play.”
Uncompromising defence, coupled with improved discipline and ball control will fix part of the problem, but as expressed by centre Ricky Leutele, along with Maloney playing a milestone match with his 100th NRL appearance this weekend, there is one important ingredient the team needs to get right.
“We need to go in with the right attitude,” Leutele said. “We need to get the win up there.”
Due to the Cowboys fielding a line up depleted by injury, with Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott out with season-ending injuries and Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote amongst those racing the clock to be fit, the Sharks will start the match as short priced favourites to bring home the two competition points.
But as Townsend pointed out, the Sharks won’t be deceived by the team their opponents run out tomorrow night, fully aware it will be a hard-earned victory should they manage to claim it.
“We’ve played the Cowboys in some big games the last few years and we know them well enough to know they are a quality team when they are at their best,” he said.
In relation to the Sharks team list, Sharks Coach Shane Flanagan has kept everyone guessing by loading young hooker Jayden Brailey onto the plane to Townsville earlier today.
Brailey broke his jaw eight weeks ago but is obviously close to a return, with Flanagan having to make a call as to which hookers be takes into the game tomorrow night.
Experienced forward Chris Heighington is the other player added to his extended bench, while there are no injury concerns amongst the squad as selected on Tuesday. See the Sharks 19-man squad listed below.
The Sharks and Cowboys match is scheduled for a 7.30pm kick off at 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville tomorrow night.
NRL TEAM LIST – Round 24
Sharks v Cowboys
Saturday, August 19
1300 SMILES Stadium
Kick-off – 7.30pm
1 - Valentine Holmes
2 - Sosaia Feki
3 - Kurt Capewell
4 - Ricky Leutele
5 - Gerard Beale
6 – James Maloney
7 - Chad Townsend
8 - Andrew Fifita
9 - Fa’amanu Brown
10 - Matt Prior
11 - Luke Lewis
12 - Wade Graham
13 - Paul Gallen
14 - Jayson Bukuya
15 - Sam Tagataese
16 - Jeremy Latimore
17 - James Segeyaro
18 - Chris Heighington
20 – Jayden Brailey
Tale of the tape
Sharks v Cowboys
Head to Head
Games Played – 42
Sharks 26 wins
At 1300SMILES Stadium
Sharks 11 wins
Past eight matches
Sharks 5 wins
Sharks 42 Cowboys 6, Toyota Park, 2000
Cowboys 56 Sharks 14, Dairy Farmers Stadium, 2005