Sharks coach John Morris found it hard to hide his disappointment after last weekend’s match, driving home the message that the defensive attitude and mindset needs to change and it needs to change starting this weekend when his team tackles the North Queensland Cowboys.
The Sharks gave up seven tries in a 38-12 loss to the Panthers a week ago, as a result Matt Moylan lost his spot to youngster Connor Tracey and as Captain Wade Graham explains, the entire team is now on notice.
“It just shows where we are at as a team, we’re not happy with the level of consistency, our level of play, and neither are the coaching staff,” Graham offered.
“They made a decision to tweak the side so hopefully they get a reaction out of all the players and we play some better footy.
“We know our defence isn’t where it needs to be if we want to be a serious contender but we’re working hard to improve it. At this stage we’re letting ourselves down in little areas, in little moments in each game, so that’s what we’re striving to fix up.
“We’ve got to challenge ourselves to be a lot better,” he said.
Adding to the task tomorrow night the Sharks will go into the contest without key playmaker Shaun Johnson who aggravated his groin injury at training on Wednesday.
Johnson was officially ruled out prior to captains run, with youngster Braydon Trindall added to the 21-man squad. Morris looks likely to include Trindall in his run on side, partnering Connor Tracey in the halves.
While the Sharks have plenty to play for with a finals berth on offer, the North Queensland outfit will be equally desperate in looking to end an eight-game losing streak.
Sitting 14th, North Queensland have failed to deliver through 15 rounds and while the absence of Jason Taumalolo hurts their cause, former Cowboys prop Braden Hamlin-Uele said he still believes there is enough quality in the ranks to trouble the Cronulla side.
“They’ve got representative players, Josh Maguire, (Jordan) MacLean, then Frankie Molo who is playing outstanding for them, Cohen Hess in the back row, they’ve all got talent and they all work hard for each other. We’ll have to be at our best to knock them over,” Hamlin Uele said.
And while Taumalolo is a big out, the addition of Valentine Holmes will certainly provide a boost, with the 2016 Sharks premiership winning winger set to play his first game following six weeks sidelined with injury.
In Sharks team news, local product Tracey is the man to come into the starting side in place of Moylan, with an interesting name on the extended bench that of Andrew Fifita, the NSW, Australian and Tongan representative front rower ready to return after overcoming hamstring and finger injuries.
In the head to head statistics, in 49 matches played between the two teams the Sharks hold a distinct advantage, having won 31 games as compared to 18 for the Cowboys. They have also won the past four and eight of the last 10 matches however traditionally there hasn’t been much in the final result, with 10 of the past 11 decided by 12 points or less.
In relation to games played in Sydney, the Sharks have won 15 of 20 matches against North Queensland during the home and away season.
The teams last met back in Round 4 in a match played in Townsville, the Sharks winning 26-16, with Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt and the Sharks duo of Ronaldo Mulitalo and Jesse Ramien all crossing for try-scoring doubles on the day.
The Sharks have scored the equal most tries in the NRL in 2020, the Cowboys conceding the second most tries, with only the Broncos giving up more. However, while North Queensland have some defensive issues to address, as alluded to by Graham, so to do the Sharks who are conceding the most line breaks and missing the most tackles of any side in the NRL competition.
In relation to player stats, Graham will move past club legend Steve Rogers and into eighth place for most matches played for the Cronulla club. Saturday night will be his 203rd NRL match for the Sharks.
Josh Dugan enjoys his best try scoring rate against the Cowboys, touching down for seven four-pointers in his past 10 matches against them, while Mulitalo has scored three times in two games against the North Queensland club.
Now second on the NRL leading try-scorers list with 13 on the season, Sione Katoa is yet to get across the line against the Cowboys.
Despite missing last week, Shaun Johnson still leads the NRL in try assists with 20, five clear of Tigers veteran Benji Marshall. Johnson has seven assists in his past three matches against the Cowboys.
And interim Cowboys coach Josh Hannay faces the only other club he ever played for aside from the Cowboys. Playing three matches for the Sharks under Ricky Stuart in 2007, Hannay quickly fell out of favour and infamously wound up playing park football for the Gymea Gorillas while still on an NRL contract.
The Sharks and Cowboys match kicks off at 5.30pm at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, with the two 19-man squads listed below.
Fullback for Sharks is number 1 William KennedyFullback for Cowboys is number 1 Scott Drinkwater
Winger for Sharks is number 2 Sione KatoaWinger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle Feldt
Centre for Sharks is number 3 Josh DuganCentre for Cowboys is number 3 Justin O'Neill
Centre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse RamienCentre for Cowboys is number 20 Connelly Lemuelu
Winger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo MulitaloWinger for Cowboys is number 5 Valentine Holmes
Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Connor TraceyFive-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Daejarn Asi
Halfback for Sharks is number 23 Braydon TrindallHalfback for Cowboys is number 7 Michael Morgan
Prop for Sharks is number 8 Braden Hamlin-UeleProp for Cowboys is number 8 Francis Molo
Hooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke BraileyHooker for Cowboys is number 9 Reuben Cotter
Prop for Sharks is number 10 Aaron WoodsProp for Cowboys is number 10 Jordan McLean
2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Mitchell Dunn
2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Coen Hess
Lock for Sharks is number 15 Scott SorensenLock for Cowboys is number 13 Josh McGuire
Interchange for Sharks is number 13 Toby RudolfInterchange for Cowboys is number 14 Jake Granville
Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Siosifa TalakaiInterchange for Cowboys is number 15 John Asiata
Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Royce HuntInterchange for Cowboys is number 16 Tom Gilbert
Interchange for Sharks is number 21 Andrew FifitaInterchange for Cowboys is number 17 Corey Jensen
- Referee: Chris Sutton
- Touch Judge: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
- Touch Judge: Drew Oultram
- Video Referee: Bryan Norrie
- Senior Review Official: Henry Perenara