NRL PREVIEW | Sharks v Cowboys

NRL PREVIEW | Sharks v Cowboys

If the Sharks were to be intimidated by a trip to North Queensland to take on the 2015 NRL premiers in their season-opener they certainly weren’t showing it when the team left Sydney this morning.

Rather it was an upbeat and excited Sharks squad, one showing plenty of respect to their opposition but a team intent on putting in a bold showing against a formidable Cowboys side.

Michael Ennis was one Shark who had already put the loss to the Cowboys in the finals last year behind him, eager to get the season started on a positive note against the competition’s benchmark team.   

“Anytime you play in Townsville it’s always a good experience, they really support their team, there is always a good crowd in, so on the back of a loss in the semi-final, there’s no better time to go up there,” Ennis said. “The boys are looking forward to the challenge.

“We need to be good in the basic areas, such as ball control, and we need to be ready to go against the defending premiers.”

Similarly Coach Shane Flanagan was also focused on Saturday and the match tomrrow night rather than what had gone before. 

“It was a tough way to finish last year. We’ve tried to put it behind us but a lot of our senior players have got a point to prove,” Flanagan said. “It’s a new start, we’re not so much worrying about last year, we just want to start this year well.

“We’re under no illusions as to how tough it is going to be, they played well in the World Club Challenge and it is going to be a massive challenge first up for us.”

While the Cowboys will trot out the same 17 players who took to the field in their extra-time Grand Final triumph over the Broncos, the Sharks head north with a sprinkling of new blood, combined with a couple of positional changes, in a team with a diferent look to the one which was on show the last time the two teams met.

This time around young gun Jack Bird will be in the centres after playing much as last year at five eighth, while Ben Barba will start the match at fullback.

The Sharks forward pack remains relatively unchanged, with the biggest difference in the halves, where James Maloney is set to partner Chad Townsend for the first time.

Ennis is confident the pair will add something to the Sharks attack and although he was reluctant to make bold predictions about how much of a boost they would provide, he did believe they could potentially become a point of difference in 2015.

“James and Chad bring a lot of different qualities to our side and we’ve already seen their abilities come through in our structure,” Ennis said.

Coach Flanagan named 19 players for the game on Saturday night, with decisions still to be made as to the final make up of his squad.

Gerard Beale made the trip to Townsville, increasing speculation the Kiwi international may yet take his place in the Sharks 17 after being named on the extended interchange bench.

As for their opponents the Cowboys, there are no secrets as to the players the Sharks will need to contain should they hope to come away with the points.

Johnathan Thurston, the man touted by many to be the best player in the game, will again be the most lethal offensive threat in the backs, while Co-Captain Matt Scott is set to lead the Cowboys charge up front.

Heavy rain is predicted for Townsville on Saturday, with the NRL match scheduled to kick off at 6.30pm local time (7.30pm Sydney time).

For those Sharks fans looking for the best local venue to watch the game, Sharks Leagues Club will show the match live on the big screen in the Summertime Bar, with a variety of food options and two bard operating. 

Also included is coach Shane Flanagan’s weekly press conference, conducted at Sydney Airport earlier today. 

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