Townsend braces for hostile Sharks return

·2-min read

There is probably no halfback in the NRL who knows the quirks and intricacies of Cronulla's Shark Park quite like Chad Townsend.

The North Queensland halfback played 146 games for the Sharks and won their maiden premiership in 2016 as their sole local junior before moving to Townsville this year.

But throughout eight seasons with Cronulla, Townsend didn't play a single finals game at PointsBet Stadium.

Cronulla had to battle with the NRL to host a game at the 11,500-capacity ground but they considered it a fight worth having.

They have lost just one game at home all season under first-year coach Craig Fitzgibbon.

And Townsend knows the Cowboys, who were pipped to second spot by the Sharks, face a baptism of fire come Saturday's qualifying final.

"It's maybe the fans they really get into you, they're super passionate and it's because of them that it's such a hostile environment," Townsend told AAP.

"You don't get many calls from the ref and the other thing is it can get really windy at night.

"On that field, anything goes and I guess that's something that really excites me."

If things had worked out differently Townsend could well have been playing for the Sharks this weekend.

He had an option in his favour to trigger a contract extension but declined it and then opted to switch to North Queensland.

It was a move that was met with scorn from some quarters, many arguing that Townsend hadn't done enough in his recent campaigns with the Sharks to earn a payday in Townsville.

"We (Cronulla) played the Cowboys last year, and we absolutely pumped them and it was probably one of my better games," he said.

"The next day I'm sat in a cafe with Todd (Payten) and he pitched to me about what they were after.

"That kind of blew me away and I went home to my wife and said: 'I can be the guy they want me to be'. Within a few days I'd signed the contract."

Moving to Townsville - when the Cowboys had just finished 15th - wouldn't appeal to many players.

Adding to that was the fact that Townsend's his likely halves partner, Tom Dearden, was struggling after being chewed up and spat out by Brisbane.

But after 12 games alongside Townsend, 21-year-old Dearden had played a starring role in Queensland's State of Origin win and is hitting the heights many good judges expected him to.

"I knew what he was feeling being a young half and having the pressure of running a team," Townsend said.

"But he's a kid who competes on everything and I was knocked back by his work ethic in pre-season.

"I knew then he was going to have a big year and it doesn't surprise me the season that he's had."