North Queensland have begun the mind games ahead of their NRL preliminary final with Cronulla, vowing to target out-of-sorts playmaker Chad Townsend and questioning his place in the Sharks’ side.
Townsend will head into the Sharks’ date with destiny against the Cowboys on Friday night at Allianz Stadium, battling mental demons after being hooked by coach Shane Flanagan in their last outing.
The No.7 was benched midway through the second half of their week-one finals win over Canberra, replaced by young gun Jack Bird who moved in from the centres to help guide the side to a memorable come-from-behind victory.
Just 24 hours before the two teams faced off for a spot in the grand final, Cowboys coach Paul Green applied the blow-torch to Townsend.
While Green had to fend off questions about the headspace of Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote, after his shocker against Brisbane, he was quick to turn attention to Townsend.
Green, himself a former Sharks halfback, said Townsend’s self-belief would have taken a beating after his forgettable display against the Raiders and warned he would be tested out.
“He’s probably a guy that we can target,” Green said. “You mentioned his confidence – that surely would have taken a hit after that game, being hooked. As a halfback, no one wants that to happen.”
In an attempt to rattle his opposition, Green even questioned whether Bird would start in Townsend’s place in the halves alongside James Maloney and said it was something Flanagan would have to be contemplating.
“It’s something that would be going through his head, they moved Bird in there and he’s a great attacking player,” Green said.
“They’ve had the Maloney-Townsend combination all year but it’s a big call to tinker with that.”
However, Flanagan said his charge was feeling no ill effects from his benching.
“He has dusted himself and moved on,” Flanagan said. “He was probably over-thinking his game too much and you will probably see a different Chad Townsend tomorrow night.”
Meanwhile, Green dared the Sharks to target Coote, after the custodian’s error-riddled display in last week’s semi-final victory over Brisbane.
The Cowboys’ No.1 almost derailed his side’s premiership defence when he came up with a number of crucial mistakes, including his failure to haul in a kick which led directly to Jordan Kahu’s try on halftime.
Green dismissed Coote’s performance against Brisbane as an “off night” and predicted any ploy to turn the screws on him would blow up in the Sharks’ faces.
“If they want to target Lachlan Coote with kicks, he’s probably the best positional fullback in the competition,” Green said.
“If he’s not the best, he’s one of the best. He had an off night against Brisbane so I’ve got complete confidence in Cootey.
“That’s the strength of his game so, if they want to target him, that’s good. It’ll bring him into the game and he’ll respond.”