Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys
Friday, September 23, 8pm (AEST), Allianz Stadium, Sydney
|Best Bet: Cronulla +2 ($1.92)
Other: Cronulla ($2.16)
Cronulla -6.5 ($3.25)
Preliminary final weekend is upon us and it kicks off with a thrilling affair between Cronulla and North Queensland. The Cowboys are the defending premiers and are hoping to keep the dream alive of becoming the first team to go back-to-back since Brisbane in 1993 while the Sharks look to play in their first full competition decider since 1978.
Paul Gallen and Sam Tagataese return for Cronulla with Jesse Sene-Lefao dropping out of the team and Gerard Beale likely to drop off an extended bench. Kane Linnett is back from injury, replacing Kalyn Ponga.
Cronulla and North Queensland have met 40 times with the Sharks winning 24 and the Cowboys 16. The teams have met twice this season with the Cowboys winning 20-14 in Townsville in Round 1 before the Sharks returned serve in Sydney with a 13-10 victory in Round 14. Over the last three seasons the Cowboys have a 4-3 edge. The teams have met twice in finals with the Sharks winning a controversy-filled 2013 elimination clash 20-18 and the Cowboys destroying the Sharks 39-0 last season in Townsville. The eight Sydney matches over the last decade have been split four apiece. Justin O’Neill has scored four tries in his last six games against the Sharks. Cowboys coach Paul Green spent most of his playing career with the Sharks.
Cronulla finished third though won just 1 of their last 6 matches. Their +176 differential was good for fourth while they rank third in both attack (24.2ppg) and defence (16.8ppg). Since Round 11, the Sharks rank ninth in attack with 21.0ppg and fourth in defence conceding 17.3ppg. Cronulla have won just 2 of their last 7 but enter this off a gritty 16-14 win over the Raiders in Canberra. North Queensland finished fourth on the ladder with a 15-9 record and a +229 differential. They had won three straight before losing 16-10 to the Storm in Melbourne on Saturday. They finished the year ranked second in attack (24.3ppg) and defence (14.8ppg). Since Round 11 though the Cowboys have ranked eighth in attack (21.3ppg) and second in defence (15.7ppg). North Queensland opened their finals campaign with a 16-10 loss to Melbourne before a gritty come-from-behind win over Brisbane in extra-time.
Michael Morgan v James Maloney. This is a sensational match between two of the premier No.6s in the NRL. Morgan has really hit his straps of late and has been instrumental to the Cowboys’ recent successes with his direct running and ability to create the extra-man. Maloney has been there and done it all before with the Roosters so will need that experience to drag along a team many considered cursed. His kicking game is top notch and with Chad Townsend out of nick it will be on Maloney to control the Sharks.
Stats That Matter
Cronulla are 14-11 ATS with a 14-11 under record while North Queensland are 14-12 ATS with a 15-11 under number. Cronulla have covered just 2 of their last 7 while North Queensland have gone under in 8 of their last 11. Home teams are just 9-7 with an 8-8 ATS record in preliminary finals since 2008 with 11 straight decided by a margin of 6 or more with 8 of the last 9 decided by double digits. Outsiders have won just 4 of the last 16 preliminary finals, going 11-5 ATS. Eight of the last nine preliminary finals have gone over. Since 2008, Cronulla are 4-4 ATS with a 4-4 total record in finals while the Cowboys are 8-4 ATS with a 6-6 total record. Since 2008 finals matches have gone under at a rate of 58%. The under is 56-36 when a finals team conceded 16 or fewer the game prior. Since 2011, teams with a break of 11 or more days are 3-7 ATS. The under is 10-4 with a road favourite in finals since ’08 with home dogs covering 4 of the last 6. Since 2013 Cronulla are 6-2 straight and ATS at Allianz Stadium while North Queensland are 0-3 with a 2-1 ATS number. Cronulla have lost their last eight preliminary finals. The Cowboys have covered just 2 of their last 8 interstate with a 7-1 under record over that time, only twice surpassing 12 points over that run. Cronulla have covered four straight as a home underdog. Since 2013 home underdogs who conceded 14 or fewer the start prior are 39-21 ATS but home underdogs off a break of 11 or more days are 12-21 ATS with a 20-13 under number. Road favourites who scored 25 or more cover at just 45% over the last four seasons while road favourites who concede 20-plus cover at 46%.
Cronulla are an impressive 5-4 when behind at halftime this year. North Queensland are a perfect 14-0 when leading at halftime this year.
It is a dangerous game betting on Cronulla to win a preliminary final but that is where we are. The Cowboys were courageous against Brisbane but they were gone for most of the match. They look busted after two brutal matches. And they have to win on the road where they have struggled in recent times. Cronulla are fresh and home underdogs off a big defensive effort are 39-21 ATS since 2013. With the Cowboys not winning at Allianz since 2010, The Wolf will be singing up, up Cronulla.
How It’s Shaping Up
Cronulla by 8
Cronulla +2 ($1.92)
Cronulla -6.5 ($3.25)
Best First/Last Tryscorer
Valentine Holmes ($9.00)
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