Dairy Farmers Stadium
OKAY, throw ’em… yes, those dice just there. Throw them now for the last time.
Although there are still 22 competition points up for grabs for each team and we all saw what Parramatta did last season, this match nonetheless shapes as the last throw of the dice for two teams struggling to get to the winner’s post.
With just four wins this season each, both the Cowboys and the Sharks are ‘hundreds’ to make a run to the finals, but should they lose here, those odds might as well be thousands.
Cronulla sit in 13th spot on the ladder following their loss to the under-strength Dragons but they have exhausted both of their byes. At this stage they would probably need to win eight of the last 11 games to have a chance at the playoffs. While they have certainly improved in recent weeks and are gritty and determined, the chances of them doing this are already as likely as Papua New Guinea winning this year’s Four Nations.
If it drops to eight in 10, forget it.
The home-side Cowboys are 15th right now but have a bye up their sleeve. They still would need to win eight of their last 10 games from this point. (After the “effort” shown against the Storm last weekend they’ll be lucky to score eight tries for the rest of the year.)
Maybe, hopefully, the sting of the result will steal them into action and we will see a minor miracle. But let’s face it, if they don’t win this game the social committee can go ahead and book the end-of-season trip early.
The Cowboys come into the match with James Tamou to start at prop, shifting Willie Mason to the second row, Steve Rapira to lock and Leeson Ah Mau to the bench. Carl Webb has been added to the side on a five-man bench.
The Sharks have lost in-form prop and New South Wales hopeful Kade Snowden to suspension, which sees Josh Cordoba start. Adam Cuthbertson and Taulima Tautai have been added to a five-man bench.
Watch out Cowboys: Believe it or not, the Sharks are the best team in the NRL at producing line-breaks on kick returns. With five already this season the side has this nice little weapon at its disposal.
With fullback Nathan Gardner and wingers Isaac Gordon and Blake Ferguson the Sharks boast some raw speed in the back three. If the Cowboys get lazy on kick-chase, this trio won’t be afraid to take on the line. Johnathan Thurston will no doubt try to kick to space but if he hits these boys on the full… look out.
Watch out Sharks: It is likely to be “bombs away” from Johnathan Thurston when he gets a chance. Cronulla might be great on kick-returns but they have been pretty woeful at defusing bombs and rank last with just 53 per cent of up-and-unders being taken cleanly.
With Matthew Bowen playing up in the front line you might see Thurston hoisting the ball towards the posts and Bowen thundering through ready to leap with the momentum. The Sharks need to provide Gardner with some legal protection.
Where it will be won: Mental application. It was basically inexcusable to see the Cowboys surrender so meekly to the Storm last weekend in a game they really needed to win to keep their finals hopes alive.
The Sharks, according to their coach, also lack the mental toughness at key moments in matches to do what they have trained to do, causing annoyance and frustration. Professional rugby league players should be able to focus on the job at hand for 80 minutes. They should be able to break the game down into its simple forms and do their job. Yet for some reason, the Cowboys especially have failed to respond when they need to.
Despite plenty of talent the home side has always had murmurs of discontent. But how many coaches must move on before the players take responsibility?
This game is going to come down to which team wants to win more. It is that simple. Who will tackle harder and play with more pride. When a loose ball hits the deck, who will dive on it? If the negativity remains, the game, and the season, will be gone.
The history: Played 25; Cowboys 7, Sharks 18. The Sharks have had the wood on the Cowboys in the quarter century of matches played so far, although the boys from North Queensland have won the most recent two clashes and three of the past five.
At Dairy Farmers Stadium the visiting Sharks hold an 8-5 advantage over the home side.
Conclusion: Who knows? Seriously… the Cowboys should be good enough at home with the likes of Thurston, Bowen, Bolton, Scott and Tonga in the side but they looked disinterested last week.
If they don’t pull their fingers out in this game the fans can surely question their desire to play for the jersey.
Meanwhile the Sharks just don’t have the firepower to bring confidence. Trent Barrett and Tim Smith try hard but fire more blanks than bullets.
Give the Cowboys this last chance, but if they fail… call it curtains for them for 2010.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Michael Wise; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.