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Defending Premiers battle courageous Cowboys
Cronulla will be desperate to claim victory in Sunday afternoon's Elimination Final as they look to become the first Premiers to go back-to-back since the Broncos (1992-1993). Shane Flanagan's men will be confident of doing just that as they prepare for an injury-plagued Cowboys side who they accounted for rather comfortably just a fortnight or so ago. In saying this, Flanagan will want to ensure his troops do not take Paul Green's men lightly after the Sharks struggled to put away the lowly Knights last week. Despite gaining a commanding 18-0 lead, the Sharks only managed another eight points in the remaining 60 minutes of the match. A similar effort against the Cowboys could prove costly as, despite their injury concerns, North Queensland have been resilient in defeat and will be eager to seize the chance given to them after the Bulldogs' win over the Dragons. Fortunately for the home side, second-rower Wade Graham and departing centre Jack Bird return for Sunday afternoon's outing.
Conversely, the Cowboys will have to continue to soldier on without key players when they take on Cronulla on Sunday. Despite that, Paul Green has been able to name the same seventeen players that went down to the Broncos last Thursday night in a performance which likely had most Cowboys fans giving up their hopes on the 2017 season. Yet, St. George's surprise loss on Sunday saw Green's men scrape into the finals and given their courage in recent weeks, one would suggest that the 2015 Premiers will be anything but ‘easy-beats'. This is especially true given that the Cowboys will still run out on Sunday afternoon with a formidable forward pack including the unstoppable Jason Taumalolo.
As alluded to, the Sharks outlasted a persistent Cowboys side 26-16 in Round 24 at 1300Smiles Stadium earlier this year. However, these sides also have an intriguing recent history in September footy. Last year, the Sharks progressed through to the Grand Final with a 32-20 win. The year prior, it was the Cowboys ending the Sharks' finals hopes with a 39-0 thumping in the Semi-Finals. Their 2013 Elimination Final, however, was arguably the most memorable, with the Sharks claiming a 20-18 win off the infamous ‘seven-tackle set'.
Who to watch: The battle between the locks will decide this one. Paul Gallen had arguably his most impressive game of the year last week against Newcastle. The 36-year old proved age is just a number as he ran for over 300 metres and broke eight tackles in an inspirational performance.
Meanwhile, his opposite number Jason Taumalolo had one of his typical outings - running for 223 metres and busting ten tackles in the process. Cronulla must contain the barnstorming lock if they are to prevail on Sunday afternoon as Taumalolo is the one that allows the likes of Michael Morgan and Te Maire Martin to do what they do best and lay on tries.
My tip: The Cowboys will not easily surrender in this one. If this season has proved anything for Paul Green's men, it is that, if healthy, they possess the ability next season to heavily contest for the Premiership once more. This year, however, that is just out of reach. Look for the Sharks to end the Cowboys' brave season in a thriller. Sharks by 2.
1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 17. James Segeyaro
1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Javid Bowen 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Michael Morgan 17. Shaun Fensom 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 8. John Asiata 14. Ben Hampton 15. Coen Hess 16. Corey Jensen