Cronulla continue to close ranks around under-siege halfback Chad Townsend in a bid to preserve the playmaker’s confidence.
Townsend was benched at a crucial stage in the Sharks NRL semi-final win over Canberra.
And he heads into Friday night’s preliminary final showdown against North Queensland facing a head-to-head battle with the game’s best Johnathan Thurston as the player from either side most under pressure.
Townsend hasn’t spoken publicly since his demotion last week.
He declined post-match requests for interviews in Canberra, turned down reporters requests for a chat at the Rugby League’s Players Association awards on Tuesday night and wasn’t made available at a Sharks media day on Sunday.
Coach Shane Flanagan said he was unlikely to reprise the shock move of shifting Jack Bird from the centres to halfback in place of Townsend against the Cowboys.
Flanagan is confident Townsend’s confidence hasn’t been affected by his semi-final sacking.
“He is all good,” Flanagan said.
“It was a decision I had to make last week. It wasn’t one I made lightly but it worked out OK for us.
“Chad has trained well. He is a really important part of our team.
“He gets our field position and gets all our calls going. I am really confident he is going to fight back and you are going to see the real Chad Townsend on Friday.”
It was a courageous call from Flanagan and the right one considering the Sharks fought back to beat the Raiders.
Flanagan said Townsend had accepted his shortcomings.
“Chad is really honest, he knows he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do,” Flanagan said.
“He was the first one to come in on Monday and basically say I agree with what you do.
“He came back to us this year a lot more mature player and I’m sure he is going to bounce back.”
Townsend’s halves partner James Maloney said he would learn the lessons of his game against Canberra.
“Chad is too good a player to not be ready to go on Friday,” Maloney said.
“He has been a really important part of our team this year and we need him to be good.”
Hooker Michael Ennis said his combination with Townsend would be crucial against the Cowboys.
“We need him there Friday night and I know he is looking forward to it,” Ennis said.