Cowboys v Sharks preview - 2017 Round 24

Embed from Getty Images
North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Saturday 7:30pm at 1300SMILES Stadium

Last two premiers faltering as finals loom.

Both sides come into this one off the back of last-start losses, which doesn't bode well when both have aspirations of repeating premiership glory from recent years. The form of each side is a little different - while the Cowboys are staring down the barrel of a fourth straight defeat if they can't get the bikkies here, their effort is without question. Injuries and a a lack of key players in the right positions have cruelled their chances this season.

Cronulla's form is more concerning - they have been comprehensively been outplayed in recent losses to the Raiders and Broncos and a third straight loss just a fortnight from the end of the premiership season will not do their back-to-back title aspirations any favours.

On the teamsheets we have a few concerns with the Cowboys losing Justin O'Neill and Shaun Fensom coming into this one, while fullback Lachlan Coote is looking touch-and-go to take the field which would almost certainly see Kalyn Ponga play fullback and the Townsville club blood debtutant Enari Tuala in the backline. They do welcome back Te Maire Martin into the halves after he missed last week's clash.

Cronulla have named Chris Heighington and Jayden Brailey to return although neither is a certainty to take the field, with the lineup largely the same as last week's from 1-17.

Last meeting: Round 11 2017 - Sharks 18 Cowboys 14

As with their record against most clubs, the early years of the Cowboys tenure in the competition have cost them - Cronulla have 26 wins to North Queensland's 16 over the 43 times these two have clashes, with one match drawn. Of the 22 played in Townsville the ledger is a little squarer with the Cowboys winning 10, Cronulla 12.

Who to watch: All eyes remain on Michael Morgan for the home side, the Queensland utility tasked with the creative leadership of this Cowboys side in the absence of Johnathan Thurston and possibly Lachlan Coote. If Coote's out there will be plenty of pressure on the halfback's shoulders - how he deals with that will go a long way to deciding whether his side can score more points than their paltry offerings of late.

The hands of all 17 Sharks players are on notice. The premiers have the highest error rate of all sixteen sides in the competition and in recent weeks that has come to bear with an awful completion rate. Paul Gallen alone contributed four errors in last week's loss to the Broncos - not the ideal way to celebrate his 300th NRL match. The errors totalled 16 across the park last week and if they can't hold the ball and hand the Cowboys too many opportunities with the ball, they will pay.

The favourite: The Cowboys' long list of omissions through injury has them friendless with the bookmakers. Cronulla comfortable favourites here.

My tip: It's hard to see the Sharks allowing that much drop ball again this week, particularly on a warm, dry Townsville night. Unless the Cowboys can find some attacking magic the Sharks should have too much for them. Sharks by 12.

14. Ben Hampton 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Javid Bowen 4. Kane Linnett 5. Kalyn Ponga 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Michael Morgan 16. Corey Jensen 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Coen Hess 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 8. John Asiata 15. Patrick Mago 20. Enari Tuala 21. Shane Wright

1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Kurt Capewell 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 20. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Sam Tagataese 16. Jeremy Latimore 17. James Segeyaro

Referees: Gerard Sutton, Dave Munro; Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Ben Galea;

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre