Cronulla veteran Luke Lewis is a strong chance of being a late inclusion for Saturday night’s blockbuster NRL clash against North Queensland.
The second-placed Cowboys visit the fifth-placed Sharks in what shapes a bellringer bout that could have major implications on the NRL’s top four.
A loss for North Queensland will leave them behind ladder leaders Brisbane, while a win for Cronulla would keep their top four hopes alive.
While the Sharks will be without suspended pair Andrew and David Fifita, Lewis is set to return from a knee injury after completing Friday morning’s captain’s run.
The 31-year-old suffered the injury against Canterbury in round 20 and missed last week’s win over the Warriors.
“He’s a chance, but I’ll see how he pulls tomorrow,” coach Shane Flanagan said on Friday.
“(I’ll) probably err on the side of caution, but he’s ready to go.”
Cronulla have been the only team to defeat North Queensland since round four, coming back from 18 points down in Townsville to record a memorable 24-18 victory.
But the Cowboys were without Johnathan Thurston for that encounter, and the competition heavyweights since strung four straight wins upon his return.
The Kangaroos playmaker hasn’t lost an NRL game since going down to Brisbane in round three.
However Flanagan has stressed to his players this week the dangers in focusing on the Cowboys ringleader.
“The more you preview the Johnathan Thurston show, the more you cast a spell over your own team and they run out there and sit back and watch the Johnathan Thurston show unfold,” he said.
“We don’t want to do that.”
Flanagan recalled how his team were successful in running through the Cowboys midfield with their big men in round 16.
“Sam Tagataese and Andrew turned the game on its head in the second half with some big, strong runs. That’s probably what we need to do tomorrow,” he said.
“They’re not supermen. JT’s playing great footy at the moment, but we’ve got a really good football team and we want to focus on what we’ve got.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Cronulla have the best record against the current top four, winning four of five against them and conceding less than 11 points on average in those matches.
* A try in this match would see Valentine Holmes become the first Sharks player since Luke Covell in 2008 to score in five straight matches.
* Antonio Winterstein will play his 100th match for the Cowboys and requires just one try to bring up 50, becoming just the seventh ever Cowboy to do so.