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15th of October 2018

Sport



Why Townsend is in a Cooper Cronk state of mind

“[Luke] Lewis got out there but he got around him and executed the one pointer.”

In doing so, Cronk secured a victory in a masterful halfback performance. The result left Cronulla needing to win against Penrith on Friday night, with the loser bowing out of the title race. The lead-up to that encounter has been all about the halves, save for Townsend.

The battle between James Maloney and Matt Moylan - and which team got the better of the player swap - has been the central theme in the lead-up. Nathan Cleary, too, can generate a headline and deservedly so given how much he has accomplished at such a young age.

Townsend, meanwhile, has barely rated a mention in a build-up that has been all about Josh Dugan’s tears, the Maloney-Moylan switch and the bad blood that has been festering between the clubs since Panthers supremo Phil Gould claimed the Sharks had won their maiden premiership in a “soft” year.

However Townsend, having played a crucial role in that 2016 triumph, is again shaping as a key figure in the current campaign. While Cronk was deservedly praised for his game management in the Roosters' win against Cronulla, Townsend was also tremendous for his side. Had Luke Lewis grounded a pinpoint Townsend grubber late in the game - the veteran spilled the ball over the tryline - the Sharks may have earned themselves a week off.

The Sharks No.7 also produced a try from a grubber on just the second tackle, one of the most audacious plays during the opening week of the finals. It was an example of eyes-up footy, perfectly executed.

“In these big games, you want to back yourself and play what’s in front of you,” he said.

“You don’t want to be too clammed up in the moment. At the end of the day, you’re just playing footy. We love to do what we’re doing and for me it’s just look up and play what you see.”

In other respects, Townsend is also a forgotten man. The 27-year-old is seldom mentioned in debate over the NSW halfback spot, while there is already excitement about his potential successor despite Townsend being contracted until the end of 2020. Coach Shane Flanagan’s son, Kyle, is considered the long-term halfback option and impressed when he made his NRL debut last month.

Such is the rap on Flanagan jnr that another promising home-grown half, Jaemon Salmon, switched to Parramatta last summer in search of first-grade opportunities.

Flanagan may have to bide his time a bit longer if Townsend can get one over his great mate Maloney en route to another title.

“I’ve loved my time playing with Jimmy and equally I’ve enjoyed playing with Matty,” Townsend said.

“Over the last month of the season we were able to win four in a row and felt like we were clicking into a high gear.”

Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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