Sharks hoping to take big bite out of wounded Cowboys

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Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys Sunday 4:05pm at PointsBet Stadium, Woolooware / Dharawal

Fresh of a post-bye win over the Rabbitohs and with a key forward back in the side, the Sharks will be looking to retain top spot on the NRL ladder when they take on a Cowboys side still licking their wounds from a last start loss to Parramatta.

The 27-20 loss to the Eels was already bad enough, given they were without Mitchell Moses, but just to really sink the spur of the boot that little deeper the Cowboys lost winger Murray Taulagi for an extended period of time after he suffered a hamstring injury.

Their opponents meanwhile are still riding high - a loss to the Tigers aside, they have been the form team of the first six rounds and as a result sit top of the table. Combinations within the side are continuing to click and develop, making them even more potent in attack.

Just two seasons ago these sides played out a qualifying final epic, which went all the way through extra time and into golden point before former Shark Val Holmes sank a two point field goal. Ultimately though it can be argued neither side benefitted from the match - the Sharks falling a week later to the Rabbitohs, while even after a week off the Cowboys looked somewhat sluggish in their Prelim final loss to the Eels (yes, the irony of both of those clubs having been their Round 6 opponents is not lost on me)

But as significant as the memories of that match are, these two teams are playing for a much bigger prize in this one. That would be the Chad Townsend Cup, the (hypothetical) celebration of Cronulla's only premiership winning halfback who doubles as the greatest Cowboys number 7 since Jonathan Thurston. In my mind, the fireworks and celebrations for the winner will be phenomenal.

Last meeting: Round 25 2023 - Cowboys 12 Sharks 32

Who to watch: The return of Braden Hamlin-Uele is a major boost for a Sharks side that looked quite strong even without him. The big no frills prop averaged 94 metres per game in 2023, his best figures since 2020 and numbers that earned him a new extension at Cronulla. The Sharks have struggled to get the best out of their props this season (with the exclusion of the Bald Eagle Tom Hazleton) so having another body on the bench will only benefit them.

But he's not the only new face on the Sharks side with Samuel Stonestreet set to make his NRL debut. The tall and pacy winger has impressed for Newtown in the NSW Cup, with three tries and an average of 134 metres through the first 5 games of the season. Replacing the suspended Sione Katoa, he'll be hoping to replicate Kayal Iro and put in a performance that makes next weeks selection meeting very interesting.

For the Cowboys, one of the big things I will be keeping an eye on is how they use Jason Taumalolo. Dealing with consistent knee pain, his minutes have been about as consistent as Steve Roach getting something right during commentary. Coming off an ok performance against the Eels, you'd think in a perfect world he will see some extended minutes as a counter to the Sharks forward-loaded interchange.

The battle of strike back rowers between Teig Wilton and Jeremiah Nanai will also be a joy to watch. Between them they have 6 tries and are an enormous part of their respective sides attacking game plan. Whichever player puts in a better performance could go a long way to deciding which team comes away with two points.

The favourite: The Sharks come in as slight favourites in this one.

My tip: The form of the Sharks is nearly irresistible right now, and the return of Hamlin-Uele threatens to add a new element to their game that makes them even stronger. Sharks by 7

1. William Kennedy 2. Samuel Stonestreet 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Kayal Iro 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Braydon Trindall 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Thomas Hazelton 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Oregon Kaufusi 11. Briton Nikora 12. Teig Wilton 13. Cameron McInnes 14. Jack Williams 15. Toby Rudolf 16. Siosifa Talakai 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele 18. Daniel Atkinson

1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Tomas Chester 5. Semi Valemei 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Jason Taumalolo 11. Kulikefu Finefeuiaki 17. Jack Gosiewski 13. Reuben Cotter 12. Jeremiah Nanai 14. Jake Granville 15. Griffin Neame 16. Sam McIntyre 19. Thomas Mikaele

Referee: Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: David Munro, Paki Parkinson; Video Referee: Ashley Klein

Match facts

Head to head since 1995
Last five meetings
2021R15CRO 26-24QLD C. Bank13926
2022R18CRO 26-12QLD C. Bank15982
2022QFNQL 32-30Pointsbet12447
2023R9CRO 44-6Pointsbet8148
2023R25CRO 32-12QLD C. Bank17318
Biggest wins
2005Round 13NQL 56-14Dairy Fmrs20843
2021Round 4CRO 48-10Netstrata5119
2023Round 9CRO 44-6Pointsbet8148

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