Three wins in a row, the last one coming with a wobbly Shaun Johnson field goal in the dying moments of the match against the Panthers, has the Sharks riding high on confidence ahead of a crucial game on the road against the North Queensland Cowboys tomorrow night.
After six losses on the trot the Sharks were floundering somewhat on the NRL table, however following the consecutive victories over the Dragons, Titans, then last week the ladder-leading Penrith team, the Cronulla side have edged towards the top eight, with another win this weekend to continue their chase for a finals berth.
Sharks coach Josh Hannay, a North Queensland native, is aware of the difficulty of taking on the Cowboys on their home turf but heads north extremely optimistic about his teams' chances.
“We’re certainly in a better position than we were a month ago, we’ve come out of a challenging and difficult time,” Hannay began. “Not only were we losing, but we had a lot of bodies who were injured and/or suspended.
“Then the last month we’ve been able to build some momentum and play some good footy. It was a good win over the Titans and a good performance against Penrith, certainly for 60 minutes, we were really good there.
“This weekend we’re coming up against a Cowboys team, at home, which is a different beast and we’re certainly going to have our work cut out, but we’re determined to continue the momentum,” he added.
While as Hannay indicated Townsville is always a difficult road trip for travelling NRL teams, and the Cowboys tricky opponents, giving the Sharks some confidence of a positive result is a 65 percent win record in matches between the two teams.
With 33 wins in 51 matches, the Sharks win-loss record against the Cowboys rates as the club’s best against any current opposition.
The Sharks have won the past six straight against North Queensland and will look to win three consecutive games in Townsville for just the second time.
Tempering that enthusiasm somewhat, the Cowboys have found some form at home in 2021, having won five straight games at their new home base of Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
These teams faced each other earlier in 2021, that match taking place back in Round 4, where the Sharks posted a 48-10 win, their biggest margin of victory and highest ever score against the Cowboys.
Young fullback Will Kennedy scored two tries and set up a further two in one if his more impressive performances in the top grade in that most recent Sharks win.
The Cowboys come into the game on the back of a disappointing 50-18 loss to Manly, the first time since 2010 they have conceded 50 points or more, while they look to avoid a second straight loss for the first time since losing the opening four matches of the season.As for the Sharks, they are aiming to win a fourth straight match for the first time since the closing rounds of the 2018 season (Rounds 22-25).
And also showing the travel to Queensland won’t necessarily deter them, the Sharks have won four of their past five matches in the Sunshine State, with their sole loss coming against Souths during Magic Round. Opposing the Sharks tomorrow night will be Valentine Holmes, the 2016 premiership winner having played 105 games for Cronulla from 2014 to 2018.
In his time at the Sharks Holmes scored 66 tries, including 22 four-pointers in 2018, a record which stands as the most for the club in a single season.
Ronaldo Mulitalo, who has been whispered in some circles as a possible Queensland Origin bolter, has scored 10 tries in his past 12 matches and three tries in four matches against the Cowboys.
In team news, Wade Graham is the only omission from the team which beat the Panthers, the Sharks skipper forced to take an extended break after suffering a head knock last weekend.
The two 19-man squads are listed below, with the Sharks v Cowboys match scheduled for a 6.00pm kick off on Friday.
Fullback for Cowboys is number 1 Valentine HolmesFullback for Sharks is number 1 William Kennedy
Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle FeldtWinger for Sharks is number 2 Connor Tracey
Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Javid BowenCentre for Sharks is number 3 Will Chambers
Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Hamiso Tabuai-FidowCentre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse Ramien
Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Murray TaulagiWinger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Scott DrinkwaterFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Matt Moylan
Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Tom DeardenHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Shaun Johnson
Prop for Cowboys is number 8 Coen HessProp for Sharks is number 8 Aiden Tolman
Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Reece RobsonHooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke Brailey
Prop for Cowboys is number 10 Jordan McLeanProp for Sharks is number 10 Aaron Woods
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Shane Wright2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Mitchell Dunn2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Siosifa Talakai
Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Jason TaumaloloLock for Sharks is number 13 Toby Rudolf
Interchange for Cowboys is number 14 Jake GranvilleInterchange for Sharks is number 14 Braydon Trindall
Interchange for Cowboys is number 15 Tom GilbertInterchange for Sharks is number 15 Teig Wilton
Interchange for Cowboys is number 16 Lachlan BurrInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Jack Williams
Interchange for Cowboys is number 17 Francis MoloInterchange for Sharks is number 20 Braden Hamlin-Uele
Reserve for Cowboys is number 19 Daejarn AsiReserve for Sharks is number 24 Billy Magoulias
- Referee: Peter Gough
- Touch Judge: Wyatt Raymond
- Touch Judge: Liam Kennedy
- Senior Review Official: Matt Noyen