North Queensland will be without Jeremiah Nanai and Valentine Holmes for Turnkey Sportsbook software Friday’s clash with Cronulla after their State of Origin heroics, but coach Todd Payten is hopeful Tom Gilbert and Tom Dearden will back up.
All four starred in Queensland’s 22-12 victory over NSW, with Holmes scoring a try and providing some magic to gather a grubbered drop-out by Nathan Cleary in the second half.
Dearden was strong defensively in his Maroons debut and gave the crucial double pump pass to Holmes for Queensland’s first, while fellow debutant Gilbert played nearly the entire match after Selwyn Cobbo and Lindsay Collins were ruled out in the first 10 minutes.
Payten said his players were exceptional and will make a decision on Gilbert and Dearden when they return to Townsville on Thursday.
Holmes, Nanai and Murray Taulagi, who went into COVID protocols last week, will all miss the top-four clash after not being named earlier this week.
“Really happy for them and the first discussion post-match is that all their bodies are good – so that’s a good sign,” Payten told reporters on Thursday.
Utility Ben Hampton has been named in the interchange as a replacement for Dearden, playing just once this year in the Cowboys’ round-13 win over Gold Coast.
Friday’s clash is the pick of the round-18 fixtures with Payten’s second-placed team facing a fourth-placed Sharks side looking to extend their winning streak over North Queensland to eight.
Both have won four consecutive games with the Sharks swimming after a 28-6 win over Melbourne, while the Cowboys had a bye following their home derby win over Brisbane.
Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon said barnstorming centre Siosifa Talakai will play if he passes his physical after Wednesday’s Origin, with Nicho Hynes and Toby Rudolf both returning for the clash from COVID-19 protocols.
“They’ve pulled up really well … and trained really strongly this week,” Fitzgibbon said of the returning pair.
Friday’s clash at Queensland Country Bank Stadium will be bittersweet for former Cronulla premiership winner Chad Townsend, who will line up against his former club for the first time.