North Queensland have the most expensive casualty ward of any team in the NRL finals, but Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan says the Sharks have no sympathy for them.
The Cowboys will have co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott watching from the sidelines for Sunday’s elimination final between the clubs, while former Queensland centre Justin O’Neill is also injured.
The Queenslanders enter September with just one win from their past six matches, their worst end to the regular season since 2010.
In comparison, the Sharks’ casualty ward from their top 17 includes only bench forward Sam Tagataese, while Tony Williams is also unavailable after playing reserve grade for the first half of the year.
But Flanagan scoffed at suggestions the Cowboys are disadvantaged, saying they had been without Thurston and Scott for 17 of 24 matches this year.
“We don’t buy into feeling sorry for the Cowboys because they are wounded,” Flanagan said.
“The two players they’ve got out, Scott and JT, they’ve been out for long periods of time.
“I think everyone is trying to pump it up to feel sorry for the Cowboys, but you won’t get anything from us.”
Flanagan’s comments come just days after Sharks captain Paul Gallen accused the Cowboys of “crying poor” heading into Sunday’s clash at Allianz Stadium.
The Cowboys have an 8-9 record without champion playmaker Thurston this year, but that figure slips to a worrying 1-9 against the top-eight finishers.
They have also been described as “cannon fodder” by Queensland coach Kevin Walters, while no eighth-placed team has survived the first week of the finals since the introduction of the current system in 2012.
But Flanagan pointed to the fit members of the Cowboys squad as reasons why they were still dangerous and said the threats didn’t stop with Jason Taumalolo.
“They’ve got some other players in their team that are quality as well.
“They’ve got a young Origin player (Coen Hess) sitting on their bench, and the two backrowers are great players.
“(Michael) Morgan is a quality player, (Lachlan) Coote is a great player.”