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Sharks set sights on stopping Taumalolo

AAP logoAAP 22/09/2016 James MacSmith and Steve Zemek

Coach Shane Flanagan has identified stopping rampaging North Queensland back-rower Jason Taumalolo as key to Cronulla's chances of progressing to the NRL grand final.

The Sharks recognise that the defensive disruption caused by Taumololo's bullocking charges so often gives master playmaker Johnathan Thurston added space to work his magic for the defending champions.

If they can blunt Taumololo in Friday night's preliminary final at Allianz Stadium they will go a long way to advancing to their first premiership decider in a unified competition in almost 40 years.

But that's no small task with Taumololo coming off his man of the match performance in the epic semi-final win over Brisbane and being named the NRL's best player in 2016 as voted on by his peers.

He is playing some great footy," Flanagan said at the Sharks' captain's run on Thursday.

"We need to get up on him, we need to cut his time down so he is not coming at us, we are going at him.

"But that is a challenge in itself, the play the ball before can't be quick and we can't be sitting on our heels.

"He is a big man coming at you with speed and footwork. You need to be going at him rather than have him coming at you."

Veteran Sharks skipper Paul Gallen , who will return from a back injury on Friday, has been mentioned as the player responsible for stopping his opposing lock Taumalolo. But Flanagan insisted it needed to be a team effort.

"It is everyone's job," he said.

"He will carry the ball in the middle and carry it towards our edges sometimes. It is up to our whole forward pack to stop him."

Sharks forwards Sam Tagataese and Joseph Paulo did not take part in the captain's run and will miss the clash as their recoveries from respective shoulder and knee injuries continue.

If the Sharks make the grand final, Flanagan said Tagataese and Paulo would be available.

Cowboys co-captain Thurston has recovered from the illness he took into the win over Brisbane and centre Kane Linnett returns from a hamstring injury.

Linnet's return Javid Bowen to the wing and pushes Kalyn Ponga out of the visitors' side.

Cowboys coach Paul Green's major concern is how his players have recovered from their extra-time win over Brisbane as they face a Sharks team that earned an extra week's rest.

""I think it's probably more physical, mentally the boys are good," Green said in Sydney on Thursday.

"They're excited about playing this time of year but no doubt Friday night's game, it was 90 minutes and pretty epic, it took a fair it out of them.

"We won't really know how they've responded until we get to the game. At this point in time we've managed the week really well and the boys are feeling pretty good at this stage."

Flanagan backed out-of-sorts halfback Chad Townsend to bounce back from being substituted in the qualifying win over Canberra.

KEY STATS

* The Sharks have struggled with the Cowboys in the past six seasons, winning just five of 14 matches since 2011, although three of those wins have come in the past five games.

* The Cowboys make more metres than any other team in the competition (1524 per game), while conceding the third fewest (1365 per game).

The Sharks make the third most metres (1494 per game) and concede the fewest (1316 per game).

* The Sharks have an unhappy record in grand final qualifiers, winning just one of nine since making the 1978 grand final, the 1997 Super League preliminary final against Canberra.

* The Cowboys have a horrible finals record at Allianz Stadium. They won their first final there in 2005 (24-16 v Storm) but have gone on to lose their next five.

Source: Fox Sports Stats

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