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Reigning premiers Cronulla Sharks look to keep their title defence alive when they play host to North Queensland Cowboys in Sunday’s second elimination final at Allianz Stadium.
The final match of the opening week of the finals pits the 2016 premiers up against the 2015 premiers with the loser crashing out of the competition – and when you add in the growing rivalry between these sides in finals series showdowns, the spectacle only gets bigger.
Cronulla and North Queensland have ended each others seasons in three of the last four seasons – the Sharks obviously came out on top during last year’s grand final qualifier before capturing a historic premiership, while the Cowboys demolished Cronulla 39-0 before going on to win their maiden title. Going back further to 2013 and it was Cronulla who edged the Cowboys courtesy of their infamous seventh-tackle try.
It’s been hard to get an accurate read on the Sharks this season – they’ve seemingly been going through the motions until finals football, which begs the question – can they immediately lift to the intensity required for September?
Cronulla have only won two of their last five matches, but one of those wins was over the Cowboys, and at home they will be confident of toppling their Queensland rivals.
North Queensland can count themselves fortunate to even feature this weekend, with the Bulldogs ending the Dragons’ season last week in an upset win.
However it’s looking like a stay of execution for the understrength Cowboys, who after fighting bravely for much of the season, appear to have lost momentum and steam over the last month.
Cronulla are one of the toughest sides to break down when they’re in the zone, and you have to feel the men from the Shire will lift for this clash. It will still be tight, but the Sharks will get the job done.
Jack Bird and Wade Graham return in a big boost for Cronulla, while the Cowboys are unchanged from last week.
Sharks: 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 18. Kurt Capewell 19. Fa’amanu Brown 20. Jesse Ramien 21. Joseph Paulo.
Cowboys: 1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Javid Bowen 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Michael Morgan 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Coen Hess 16. Corey Jensen 17. Shaun Fensom 18. Ray Thompson 19. Kyle Laybutt 20. Braeden Uele 21. Enari Tuala.