If Johnathan Thurston does make a miracle recovery to play against Cronulla tonight he should be prepared for a thorough examination of his shoulder injury.
The Sharks welcome North Queensland to Southern Cross Group Stadium looking to continue the momentum from their derby win over St George Illawarra. But they will have to arrest a worrying form slump at Shark Park to do so, having lost three of their four games at home after 10 rounds.
Their only win came when they snuck home against struggling Newcastle in round five. It is a vast difference to Cronulla’s home form last season where they lost only once on the way to winning their maiden premiership.
The Cowboys were expected to be without Thurston as the champion halfback battles to overcome a torn rotator-cuff suffered in the Anzac Test.
It was initially thought Thurston would aim to be back in time for State of Origin I but the 34-year-old Queensland legend has traveled with the team to Sydney and there were reports that he even trained with the Cowboys on Wednesday morning.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan did not expect Thurston to play but said the Sharks were well prepared for him.
“I don’t want to read too much into it. I think it’d be a long shot for him to play if the injury was diagnosed correctly,” he said.
“It’s only 10 days or so since that last game. If he’s any chance of playing in the Origin I’d be surprised if he turns up [tonight]. But if he does turn up he can expect… we won’t treat him any different.
“He could expect a little bit [of traffic] if he turns up. But he’s a quality player. [Cowboys coach] Paul Green’s not going to turn him out and Johnathan’s not going to play if he’s not 100 per cent fit. But you’d never know with Johnathan, he’s a tough bugger.”
Cronulla have had their fair share of battles with North Queensland in recent times. They’ve played each other 11 times in the last four seasons including three semi-final matches.
The Sharks have won the last two clashes, including the epic 32-20 victory in last season’s preliminary final.
Flanagan said that had left Cronulla knowing what to expect from the Cowboys, with Thurston or not.
“There is a fair bit of difference [to North Queensland with or without Thurston] but we’ve played the Cowboys a fair bit over the last couple of years,” he said.
“Two semi-final series [plus] we’ve played them twice during the normal rounds. We’re pretty well prepared on the Cowboys. It’s just a bit of homework on them to refresh our memories what their strengths are.
“[Thurston] figured a bit today but if he turns up [tonight] he’s been around for a long time so a lot of our players know what Johnathan Thurston is about.”
Kick-off is scheduled for 7.50pm.
Meanwhile, Cronulla utility Fa’amanu Brown has joined Canterbury on a two-year deal starting in 2018.