Round 4: Sharks v Cowboys preview
Sharks kick off Easter double header against Cowboys
The Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys will be looking to put aside difficult starts to 2021 when they face off at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Saturday evening.
Coming off an unprecedented performance which saw the side play the entire second half without any replacements, the Cronulla Sharks will be looking to bounce back at ‘home'.
Going down to the Eels 28-4 last Saturday in a result that failed to represent the closeness of the match, coach John Morris will be hoping the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Queensland galvanises his side back to an equal win-loss record.
Winning 9 of their past 11 matches against North Queensland, including both fixtures contested last season, Saturday's fixture has been shifted from Sunshine Coast Stadium to Kogarah as part of a double-header featuring the Titans and Raiders on the second half of the twin bill.
Fielding several new faces with Sione Katoa (knee) and Briton Nikora (suspension) unavailable, Mawene Hiroti earns a recall in the backline while Teig Wilton will start in the second row for the first time in his career. Braydon Trindall is the new man on the bench with Andrew Fifita once again relegated to the extended squad.
Producing a diabolical performance on home soil last Sunday to remain winless after three rounds, the North Queensland Cowboys will be desperate to silence their critics with a strong showing on the field.
Conceding seven tries in a 44-8 thumping at the hands of the Titans, coach Todd Payten has responded by making a number of changes throughout the playing ranks in a show of making his players accountable for their performances.
Dropping Jake Clifford and Esan Marsters for form and losing Mitchell Dunn and Reuben Cotter with injury, Ben Hampton, Connelly Lemuelu, Shane Wright and Ben Condon will all make their first appearances of the season.
Coen Hess will become the 29th player to reach 100 appearances in first grade for North Queensland.
Who to watch: Marking two years since debuting in first grade for the Sharks, fullback Will Kennedy has gone from strength-to-strength under the coaching of John Morris. Named to play despite being one of three players ruled out with concussion last week, the 23-year-old Bathurst junior has been in dynamic touch with three tries, three forced drop-outs and a try-assist over the opening three rounds. Developing his skills as a ball player since making the number one jersey his own midway through 2020, look for Kennedy to be especially potent in the event the Sharks pack down for a scrum in attacking range.
Taking aim at the Cowboys' ‘soft underbelly' in the aftermath of last week's demoralising loss, veteran forward Josh McGuire will be looking to back up his words by leading from the front. Accusing the side of lacking resilience and effort in the face of adversity, the 31-year-old Australian and Queensland representative has averaged a little over 100 metres and 27 tackles per game this season. Known for his aggressive style of play that has been known to cross the line in the past, the Cowboys will need McGuire to play a leading role if they hope to avoid starting a season with four straight losses for the first time since 2002.
The favourite: Winning every match against the Cowboys during John Morris' coaching tenure, the Sharks are expected to extend that trend on Saturday evening.
My tip: While results may have gone against the Sharks over the past fortnight, the resilience shown by the men in black, white and blue should be too much for the Cowboys to overcome. Cronulla by 18.