Last Saturday night’s loss won the Sharks plenty of admirers for the way they battled through adversity and made the Eels work overtime to claim the victory.
However, while the performance may have won over fans, critics and commentators, it didn’t produce the two competition points, making this weekend’s match against the Cowboys now crucial to a Sharks side looking to keep pace with the leading teams.
In a match relocated from the Sunshine Coast to Netstrata Jubilee due to the COVID situation in south-east Queensland, the Sharks minus one suspended and one injured player from the team which took on the Eels, will again need to display plenty of resilience against what will be a desperate Cowboys outfit.
The Sharks go into the contest without Briton Nikora, who is set to miss two matches for a shoulder charge, with Sione Katoa also sidelined with a medial knee strain, the winger likely to be sidelined for a period of up to eight weeks.
In their place comes Mawene Hiroti on Katoa’s wing, with the extremely capable Teig Wilton into the backrow in place of Nikora.
Wilton was amongst those players to shine in the Eels loss, the youngster outstanding in a beaten side.
And while the Sharks will be somewhat undermanned, so too will the North Queensland team, with club captain Michael Morgan missing with a shoulder complaint and try scoring winger Kyle Feldt unavailable due to suspension.
Giving the Sharks confidence of a positive result will be the statistics which show they have their best current win record against North Queensland, having won 64 percent of matches played between the two clubs.
The Sharks are on a five-game win streak against the Cowboys, aiming for six straight wins against North Queensland for the second time (12 straight wins between 1997-2003).
In the overall head-to-head matchup, in the 50 games played the Sharks have 32 wins as opposed to 18 from their rivals.
These teams last met in Round 16, 2020 with Cronulla winning 28-12.
As was well documented, prompting a change in NRL policy with an 18th man concussion substitution to be included from round five, the Sharks played the entire second half last week with no interchange players, forcing their three middle forwards in Braden Hamlin-Uele, Aaron Woods and Toby Rudolph to each see out the 80 minutes of the match.
Woods was the only one of the three to have played a full match at NRL level previously, doing so for the Wests Tigers against Manly in 2017.
In relation to Sharks skipper Wade Graham, should he pass his concussion protocols and take to the field as expected, he will move into equal seventh as Cronulla’s most capped player, sitting alongside club legend Greg Pierce (210 games).
As for the Cowboys, they will be looking to avoid losing their opening four matches of a season for the fourth time in club history (1995, 1999, 2002).
This year is the first time since 2015 the Cowboys have started 0-3, the same year they won the competition.
The Cowboys will unleash one player determined to perform, with Valentine Holmes up against the club he played 105 games for from 2014 to 2018.
In his time at the Sharks Holmes scored 66 tries, including 22 in 2018, a record for the most tries for the Cronulla club in one season. Few Sharks fans have forgotten, Holmes also helped the club to its first ever Premiership win in 2016 before leaving at the end of the 2018 season to try his hand in the NFL in the US.
While the rivalry will be intense on the field, a friendly one may exist in the coaches boxes, with John Morris, in charge of his 50th NRL match, up against former teammate Todd Payten. The pair played together from 2007 to 2009 at the Wests Tigers.
In team news, Nene Macdonald and young forward Franklin Pele have been retained on the extended reserves bench, with Sharks team otherwise 1-17.
See the two 19-man squads listed below.
And for tickets, which for the double header, with the Titans and Raiders to follow the Sharks and Cowboys at Netstrata on Saturday, have been heavily discounted, go to the following link – CLICK HERE
Fullback for Sharks is number 1 William KennedyFullback for Cowboys is number 1 Valentine Holmes
Winger for Sharks is number 2 Mawene HirotiWinger for Cowboys is number 2 Murray Taulagi
Centre for Sharks is number 3 Josh DuganCentre for Cowboys is number 3 Justin O'Neill
Centre for Sharks is number 4 Connor TraceyCentre for Cowboys is number 4 Connelly Lemuelu
Winger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo MulitaloWinger for Cowboys is number 5 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Matt MoylanFive-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Scott Drinkwater
Halfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad TownsendHalfback for Cowboys is number 7 Ben Hampton
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 Reece Robson
Prop for Sharks is number 10 Aaron WoodsProp for Cowboys is number 10 Jordan McLean
2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Teig Wilton2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Shane Wright
2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Ben Condon
Lock for Sharks is number 13 Toby RudolfLock for Cowboys is number 13 Josh McGuire
Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Braydon TrindallInterchange for Cowboys is number 14 Jake Granville
Interchange for Sharks is number 15 Aiden TolmanInterchange for Cowboys is number 15 Coen Hess
Interchange for Sharks is number 16 Jack WilliamsInterchange for Cowboys is number 16 Corey Jensen
Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Billy MagouliasInterchange for Cowboys is number 17 Lachlan Burr
- Referee: Chris Sutton
- Touch Judge: Todd Smith
- Touch Judge: Darian Furner
- Senior Review Official: Ashley Klein