Don't be surprised if this Saturday evening duel goes down to the wire.
The Cowboys (1-1 record) will be busting to make amends after last week's thumping from the big-city boys but they can forget about the Sharks being charitable.
Cronulla (1-1) looked like they were going to cruise to a big victory last week but they cooled off in the second half and almost allowed the Titans to get back in the game.
Despite the absence of injured forward Jason Taumalolo, the Cowboys will be ultra-keen to play well so the Sharks can't afford anything less than a focused 80-minute effort on Saturday.
Match: Cowboys v Sharks
Round 3 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
Cowboys: The Cowboys will start 1-17 after Justin O'Neill and Enari Tuala were left out an hour before game time. Paul Green has opted for a major backline reshuffle with Te Maire Martin switching from five-eighth to fullback and youngster Jake Clifford getting his chance in the No.6. Centres Justin O'Neill and Tom Opacic have both been dropped. Their places are taken by Ben Hampton and Kahu, who moves from fullback to centre. In the pack, Coen Hess comes into the starting side for Jason Taumalolo. Corey Jensen is the new player on the interchange. Shane Wright and Peter Hola were omitted 24 hours before kick-off.
Sharks: Cronulla will start 1-17 after Scott Sorensen and Bronson Xerri were the two players omitted an hour fro kick-off. The Sharks are unchanged for the third consecutive week as they look to celebrate Paul Gallen’s record-breaking 329th game for the club with a win in Townsville. Kyle Flanagan and Braden Hamlin-Uele were the two players left out 24 hours before game time.
Fullback for Cowboys is number 1 Te Maire MartinFullback for Sharks is number 1 Matt Moylan
Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Nene MacdonaldWinger for Sharks is number 2 Sosaia Feki
Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Jordan KahuCentre for Sharks is number 3 Josh Dugan
Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Ben HamptonCentre for Sharks is number 4 Josh Morris
Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Javid BowenWinger for Sharks is number 5 Sione Katoa
Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Jake CliffordFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Shaun Johnson
Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Michael MorganHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad Townsend
Prop for Cowboys is number 8 Matthew ScottProp for Sharks is number 8 Andrew Fifita
Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Jake GranvilleHooker for Sharks is number 9 Jayden Brailey
Prop for Cowboys is number 10 Jordan McLeanProp for Sharks is number 10 Matt Prior
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Gavin Cooper2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Coen Hess2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Kurt Capewell
Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Josh McGuireLock for Sharks is number 13 Paul Gallen
Interchange for Cowboys is number 14 John AsiataInterchange for Sharks is number 14 Blayke Brailey
Interchange for Cowboys is number 15 Corey JensenInterchange for Sharks is number 15 Jayson Bukuya
Interchange for Cowboys is number 16 Mitchell DunnInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Aaron Woods
Interchange for Cowboys is number 17 Francis MoloInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Jack Williams
- Referee: Matt Cecchin
- Referee: Phil Henderson
- Touch Judge: Nick Morel
- Touch Judge: Kasey Badger
- Video Referee: Beau Scott
- Senior Review Official: Steve Chiddy
Michael Morgan was terrific in the round one win over the Dragons but was a marked man last week and didn't have the impact he would've envisioned. Morgan has an interesting battle on his hands with Shaun Johnson this week and will probably need a five-star performance against the methodical Sharks.
For the Cowboys to win
Someone is going to have to step up to fill Taumalolo's big shoes. Coen Hess has put his hand up as the man to cover for Taumalolo but it will take a total team effort against a side that defends its line as well as any in the competition. Morgan and Te Maire Martin will have to be at their creative best.
For the Sharks to win
Rookie coach John Morris has done little or no wrong thus far and will be looking forward to the opportunity to matching wits with premiership-winning coach Paul Green. If the Sharks defend well as usual and keep errors to a minimum, they should have too much strike power in their outside backs.
Brett Kimmorley says ...
Paul Gallen gets to break Andrew Ettingshausen’s record this week. If that’s not enough to lift the 16 other players I don’t know what will. It is a massive achievement for Gallen. Paul Gallen will play as a leader this week, the emotion of it will be great. They’re playing a North Queensland side that will be lacking a few stars in the forwards. It should be a great challenge between Gallen and Josh McGuire. I think it will be a great night of celebration for Cronulla. Sharks by 4.
Cowboys Stat Attack
The Cowboys lead the NRL in off-loads (28) and are sharing top spot in line break assists (8), but they've also missed 72 tackles and only the struggling Bulldogs (74) have missed more.
Sharks Stat Attack
The defensive-minded Sharks have made the most tackles (730) of any team and also conceded more penalties (23) than any of their rivals. Sione Katoa is tops in tackle breaks (15), while Matt Moylan is equal-first in line-break assists (4).
And another thing ...
He didn't chalk up a win against his former team last week but Cowboys forward Josh McGuire has quickly settled into his new role. Playing 63 minutes off the bench in round one, McGuire had 17 runs for 154m, including 62 post-contact metres. He also had 16 hit-ups and 29 tackles in his team's 24-12 win. Last week he played 72 minutes as a starter and finished with 14 runs, 142 run metres, 52 post-contact metres, 13 hit-ups and 37 tackles.