The Cronulla Sharks kept themselves in the top-four hunt by beating the Storm in Melbourne – now they need to keep the heat on Penrith and the Dragons by accounting for North Queensland at home.
Shane Flanagan's men disappointed in their last home game – a 33-32 golden point loss to Manly – so there will be no shortage of incentive for the boys in black, white and blue.
Such is the 2018 campaign of the North Queensland Cowboys that a stirring win over the Broncos on Friday night still somehow resulted in them falling into the wooden spoon position on the NRL ladder.
The absence of Jason Taumalolo (suspension) makes a tough trip to Southern Cross Group Stadium all the more difficult.
Match: Sharks v Cowboys
Round 23 -
Venue: Southern Cross Group Stadium
- Fox League
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
Key match up: Andrew Fifita v Jordan McLean. While Fifita has again been one of the best props in the league, McLean's first season in Townsville has been cruelled by injury. His effort against the Broncos on Friday was superb. He ran for 195m (from 17 ball carries) in a performance which reminded everyone how good he is.
For the Sharks to win: When Cronulla are able to turn a match into an arm wrestle they usually fare well. They've got experience, they've got strike power and they've got tenacity. Sometimes they lack the ability to stay switched on for the entire 80 minutes. They need to eliminate that foible before the finals.
For the Cowboys to win: One player won't be able to do it on his own, but the Cowboys pack need to somehow cover for Taumalolo's absence when it comes to making ground in the middle third of the field. The likes of John Asiata and Scott Bolton will have increased opportunities, and they need to make them count. They combined for 145m against Brisbane. Taumalolo had 286m on his own.
Sharks Stat Attack: Cronulla's backs churned out some great ball running numbers against the Storm, something their pack would have great appreciated. Valentine Holmes (173m), Josh Dugan (115m), Jesse Ramien (181m), Ricky Leutele (156m) and Sosaia Feki (115m) all performed strongly. Coach Flanagan will be hoping for more of the same.
Cowboys Stat Attack: For all the talk of Johnathan Thurston having lost a step or two during his final NRL season, he remains the key cog in the Cowboys' attack. His tally of 19 line-break assists is five clear of second best in the NRL. The Sharks will be focused on limiting his effectiveness on Saturday night.
And another thing: Jake Clifford is considered the next big thing in the halves in Townsville. He has looked the goods so far, but don't be surprised if that results in the Sharks singling him out for some special attention. All good young players get it eventually - Clifford's time may just have arrived.
Fullback for Sharks is number 1 Valentine HolmesFullback for Cowboys is number 1 Te Maire Martin
Winger for Sharks is number 2 Sosaia FekiWinger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle Feldt
Centre for Sharks is number 3 Jesse RamienCentre for Cowboys is number 3 Justin O'Neill
Centre for Sharks is number 4 Ricky LeuteleCentre for Cowboys is number 4 Kane Linnett
Winger for Sharks is number 5 Josh DuganWinger for Cowboys is number 5 Gideon Gela-Mosby
Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Matt MoylanFive-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Jake Clifford
Halfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad TownsendHalfback for Cowboys is number 7 Johnathan Thurston
Prop for Sharks is number 8 Andrew FifitaProp for Cowboys is number 17 Scott Bolton
Hooker for Sharks is number 15 James SegeyaroHooker for Cowboys is number 9 Jake Granville
Prop for Sharks is number 10 Matt PriorProp for Cowboys is number 10 Jordan McLean
2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Luke Lewis2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Gavin Cooper
2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Scott Sorensen2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Coen Hess
Lock for Sharks is number 13 Paul GallenLock for Cowboys is number 13 John Asiata
Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Kurt CapewellInterchange for Cowboys is number 14 Ben Hampton
Interchange for Sharks is number 16 Aaron WoodsInterchange for Cowboys is number 15 Francis Molo
Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Jayson BukuyaInterchange for Cowboys is number 16 Corey Jensen
Interchange for Sharks is number 18 Joseph PauloInterchange for Cowboys is number 18 Ethan Lowe
Sharks: Jayden Brailey is a late withdrawal, with James Segeyaro starting at hooker and Joseph Paulo joining the bench. Wade Graham (knee) is replaced by Scott Sorensen in the second row.
Cowboys: Matt Scott is out, replaced at prop by Scott Bolton. Ethan Lowe moves from the reserves to the bench. John Asiata replaces the suspended Jason Taumalolo at lock, with Francis Molo joining the interchange.
Head-to-head: Played 45; Sharks 27 wins, Cowboys 18 wins
Previous result: Cowboys won 20-14 at 1300Smiles Stadium in round 1
Points per game: Sharks 20.1; Cowboys 17.1
Points conceded per game: Sharks 18; Cowboys 22
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: The Sharks have really flown under the radar while sides around them have been talked up. They announced themselves last week with a great win in Melbourne and I love the way they are going about their business. In contrast the Cowboys season has been a bit sad really and the quality we've come to expect from them just hasn't been there.
Tip: Sharks by 10