Sharks back Townsend after finals benching
Chad Townsend was the unlucky man to make way to get Gerard Beale and Jack Bird more involved in last Saturday's qualifying final win in Canberra due – strangely – to Wade Graham's concussion, but his teammates are backing him to bounce back with a big 80-minute game this Friday night against the Cowboys.
With skipper and lock Paul Gallen a scratching from the Raiders game, coach Shane Flanagan's plan had been to get centre Bird more involved with a spell at lock by bringing Test centre Beale in off the bench.
The early concussion to Graham caused a late change of plans but with the game in the balance, Flanagan went through on the rest of the plan by moving Bird in closer to the action at five-eighth, shifting Maloney to halfback and bringing on Beale. Townsend, who was having a below-par game by his standards ended up being the man to watch the rest of the game from the bench as his teammates went on to take the lead and close out a narrow 16-14 win.
But hooker Michael Ennis said the 25-year-old had responded professionally despite his disappointment, adding the playing group was hoping and expecting to see an 80-minute game from him this weekend against the Cowboys.
"I've been really pleased with Chad and how he's responded," Ennis said.
"He's jumped straight back in and he's steering the side around. Probably in all honestly he's been one of the form halfbacks of the comp throughout the season.
"It was obviously a brave call by 'Flanno' but it was such an important game for us down there and we were starting to make some inroads against Canberra and we needed to make sure we capitalised on that and we had Gerard Beale sitting there who's an international and obviously Flanno's plan, which he'd spoken to us about, without Gal, was to move Jack Bird into lock at some stage.
"But once we lost Wade he wasn't able to do that so then the only real option was to get Birdy in at five-eighth and that opened up the centre spot for Gerard. That was what Flanno needed to do and in the end Chad took it really well.
"[He was] obviously disappointed to come off the field in a semi-final but took it extremely well and he's really bounced back at training. He'll be up for a big one come Friday."
Ennis said Townsend's team-first attitude and professionalism had been on show since the time it happened.
"That was a real test of his character that night and I thought he came out with flying colours to be honest, the way he handled it and the way he's handled this past few days is a real credit to him."
Ennis added Townsend had trained every session at halfback since then and was expecting him to stay there for 80 minutes against North Queensland.
"We certainly want him at halfback, all the players. He's been one of the form halves of the comp and he's had a tremendous season so he's really important for us come Friday," Ennis said.
Back-rower Graham, whose early concussion last week was partly responsible for the reshuffle, said Townsend hadn't needed any additional encouragement from his teammates but would continue to benefit from the infectious confidence of halves partner James Maloney.
"Jimmy's won a grand final, he's played Origin; when he comes back and he works with Chad and he gives Chad directions and gives him control it really gives Chad confidence," Graham said.
"They've been great together all year with Benny Barba at the back and they've been a big reason why we've played how we have."
Townsend hasn't missed a beat since returning to training, according to Graham.
"He's straight back in there directing and calling the shots, he'll be fine. He'll be good to go," Graham added.
"I'm pretty sure it will be back to normal this week, he'll be playing 80 minutes and we need him to perform as we need everyone to perform on Friday night."
Game on. Data off.
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