Townsend blinder no surprise to Sharks
They said all week they expected halfback Chad Townsend to bounce back with a big game and on Friday night Cronulla players were proved correct.
Townsend's shock benching for the last 20 minutes of Cronulla's win over Canberra in the first week of the finals was a huge but successful gamble by coach Shane Flanagan, and one that created a constant talking point in the build-up to Friday night's Telstra Premiership preliminary final against North Queensland.
Although his teammates say he didn't need any extra pep talks, his halves partner James Maloney took some time out to make sure Townsend's head was right ahead of the crunch game.
"He was sweet; I spoke to him after the [Canberra] game," Maloney said.
"We went and had a hit of golf earlier in the week. He was in a good space, I just wanted to make sure he was sweet, and he was sweet.
"I wanted to make sure he realised how important he was to the team and he did, he knew that and he knew exactly what he had to do and he came out and did it tremendously [against the Cowboys] and he'll come out and do the same next week."
Shielded from media in the lead-up, it was left to Townsend's teammates to publicly back the local junior who has enjoyed a breakout season in 2016.
On Friday night he scored one try and laid on another in an assured performance that began with a huge confidence booster when his first kick of the night – a tough swirling downfield bomb that swung towards the touch-line – was spilled by Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote to kick-start Cronulla's dominance.
"I wasn't surprised, we told you (the media) during the week that he just got on with his job," back-rower Wade Graham said after the 32-20 win.
"He was our halfback for 26 games before that and it was just a matter of the circumstances with what happened down in Canberra with me getting knocked out, Gal withdrawing and Bealey (Gerard Beale) the fresh legs on the bench.
"To Chaddy's credit he got on with it during the week and prepared for the game and put in a great performance."
Before he was subbed off in Canberra, Townsend was having, at worst, an off night but it was far from being a shocker that will echo through the ages.
Maloney certainly rejected suggestions that Townsend even had to make amends for a perceived bad game.
"He had one game that wasn't perfect, I don't think it was as terrible as everyone was saying," Maloney said.
"He's been outstanding for us all year so I had every faith he was going to come back and do the job. He's very important to this side and no doubt he's got another big 80 in him."
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