North Queensland’s Gavin Cooper says the fact his side is running last means he won’t throw fuel on the fire ahead of a potentially spicy NRL rematch with Cronulla on Saturday.
The teams have made a habit of ending each others’ seasons in recent years and tensions flared following the Cowboys’ round one win when Cooper accused the Sharks of employing “dirty tactics” to fell star prop Matt Scott.
Cooper triggered a back-and-forth in March when he called out the Sharks for twisting Scott’s leg while tackling him, in what was the veteran’s first game back from a serious knee injury.
The criticism angered Sharks coach Shane Flanagan, who shot back a stubborn defence of his side later that week.
The Cowboys have gone on to win just five games since, with Cooper opting to stay humble as they prepare to face the sixth-placed side in Sydney.
“Those comments were a long time ago and we’re sitting last,” he told AAP on Tuesday.
“I’ve always got a humble approach, but we’ll just leave that where it was.”
One side has beaten the other in four of the last five finals series and the slanging match between the clubs earlier this season only confirmed their rivalry.
Cronulla forward Wade Graham on Tuesday insisted Cooper had been off the mark but that there would be plenty of emotion attached to the contest regardless.
“It’s either been us or them,” he said.
“When you’ve faced a similar team over and over again you do build up a bit of a rivalry. It’s not different with the Cowboys.”
The Sharks displayed their premiership credentials in a bruising 17-14 defeat of Melbourne on Sunday while the Cowboys were hot in a 34-30 win against Brisbane.
Just three games remain in Johnathan Thurston’s farewell season and the Cowboys have a fight on their hands to avoid the wooden spoon.
“It’s a strange one at the club, considering our success, to know when our time is up this year,” Cooper said.
“(Against the Broncos we) wound back the clock a bit and the want to win was massive.
“I’m just looking forward to these last few games cause there’s a group here, whether it’s one, two, five (players), who won’t play together after that.”