Cronulla and North Queensland have declared themselves bigger than one man after both losing their inspirational skippers for Saturday night’s NRL clash in Townsville.
Sharks and NSW captain Paul Gallen was ruled out on Friday after failing to overcome a rib injury, while Cowboys talisman Johnathan Thurston was been rested as he nursed a shoulder problem.
The good news for fans from Queensland and NSW is that both will be fit for July 8’s State of Origin decider in Brisbane.
Gallen, failing to recover from a rib cartilage injury suffered in Origin II, did not travel with the side to Townsville.
Flanagan said Gallen would have been right to play with an extra two days’ preparation and he appeared certain to be named on Tuesday by Blues coach Laurie Daley when he announced his side for Origin III.
Gallen has endured an injury-plagued season because of glute and rib problems.
The 33-year-old has not played since Origin II and, when he takes the field at Suncorp Stadium for Origin III, he will have played just twice in more than 12 weeks.
Gallen’s absence is a big blow for Cronulla, who have a chance to jump into the top eight with a win over the red-hot Cowboys, however Flanagan has backed his charges to cover the loss.
“Gal’s our leader but we’ve got so many senior players in our team that we just move on,” Flanagan said. “We don’t talk to the media about it; we don’t talk about it as a group.
“We have confidence in the players coming in. It would have been a hard decision on who to leave out of the team that won last week.”
Thurston was rested by the Cowboys after his last-gasp heroics last weekend against Canberra.
After being touch and go right up until kickoff and playing just three days after Origin II, Thurston booted the last-minute field goal to get his side home.
The Cowboys’ record without the game’s best pivot – five wins from 14 matches over the past five years, according to Fox Sports Stats – emphasises just how much they depend on him.
While acknowledging the side’s record is poor without Thurston, halfback Michael Morgan said the second-placed Cowboys were no longer reliant solely on him.
“I don’t think it is how it used to be,” Morgan said.
“We never used to win when he was out but I think the way Greeny’s got us playing with our structures now, if people do their job individually, then we go well.
“In the past, a lot relied on JT so it was hard to win without him.”
STATS THAT MATTER:
* The Cowboys are seeking to become just the 13th team in premiership history to win 12 straight matches
* Ten of the Sharks’ 13 games have been decided by eight points or less
* This season, the Cowboys have busted the most tackles (27.6 per game) and made the most run metres (1592 per game)
* The Sharks have been awarded the most penalties this season (8.3 per game), however the Cowboys are conceding the equal fewest penalties (5.4 per game)