If increasing injury lists, player transfer discussions and a couple of demoralising defeats weren’t enough to cope with in the opening month of footy for coaches, then dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak would tip the scales.
Desperate for their first win of the season, the under-fire North Queensland Cowboys travel to Netstrata Jubilee Stadium to take on the Cronulla Sharks.
Initially scheduled to be played on the Sunshine Coast, the NRL made the decision earlier in the week to shift the game to Sydney to avoid possible further disruption to the competition.
After resisting to wield the axe in recent weeks, Cowboys coach Todd Payten’s patience has run out after three disappointing results to open the season, including two losses at home.
Jake Clifford and Esan Masters have been dropped, with utility Ben Hampton named to partner Scott Drinkwater (17 carries for 81 metres) in the halves, while livewire Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (9 carries for 67 metres) moves back to the wing.
Justin O’Neill (11 carries for 91 metres) now moves into the centres after being named at wing in last week’s 44-8 demolition at the hands of the Gold Coast Titans.
Young backrower Ben Condon will make his season debut alongside Shane Wright, with Mitch Dunn (foot) and Reuben Cotter (head knock) both sidelined with injury.
The outspoken Josh McGuire (12 carries for 112 metres) moves to lock after he added a much needed punch from the bench late in their round three loss, with Payten showing some confidence in the veteran despite rumours the club and him are at odds.
Coen Hess (8 carries for 81 metres) has been shifted to the bench in what will be his 100th NRL appearance.
Injuries and suspensions have also forced Sharks coach John Morris to make a couple of changes to his side, after four players suffered injuries in the opening half of their round three 28-4 loss to the Parramatta Eels.
Mawene Hiroti will replace Sione Katoa on the wing after he suffered a suspected MCL injury, while Teig Wilton (14 carries for 114 metres) will replace Briton Nikora (4 carries for 38 metres) who has accepted a two-week ban for a shoulder charge on Eels fullback Clint Gutherson.
Braydon Trindall will move onto the bench in just his sixth NRL appearance.
Will Kennedy (1 line break and try assist) and Wade Graham (3 carries for 27 metres) will both be fit for Saturday’s clash despite concerns earlier in the week, after the duo suffered head knocks in round three.
The Cowboys struggled in attack in their last start despite completing at over 70% and will be hoping to improve on their defensive efforts after missing 42 tackles against the Titans.
While the Cronulla Sharks, who failed to recuperate after losing their entire bench in the opening stanza last week, made 10 errors, missing 32 tackles in their defeat to the Eels.
While many believe this round four clash is a huge opportunity for the Cowboys to take advantage of an injury ridden Cronulla side, it would be irresponsible to suggest such given the experience missing from the North Queensland side, with Michael Morgan (shoulder), Kyle Feldt (suspension) and Jason Taumalolo (hand) all sidelined.
While Cronulla will be thankful the scheduling shake up means less travel for a side battling injuries, both coaches will be hoping their new look rosters can resolve some teething issues heading into the next month of footy.