The Cowboys' chances of running down Penrith for the minor premiership evaporated last night so hanging on to second spot now becomes their priority.
They sit equal with the Sharks on 32 points but ahead by 71 on points differential and a home final in Townsville beckons provided they can hold their nerve in the remaining three games.
The Vodafone Warriors have shown some positive signs against quality opposition in the past month but it doesn't get any tougher than facing the top two sides in the next fortnight (they're away to the Panthers next Friday).
If they can hold their heads high against the Cowboys and Panthers and then finish with a win in front of the Mt Smart faithful in round 25 there will be plenty of positives to take into next season.
Cowboys: Tom Gilbert will miss the game for family reasons, replaced in the starting side by Luciano Leilua with former Vodafone Warrior Jamayne Taunoa-Brown added to the bench. Veteran winger Kyle Feldt returns after missing two games with a hamstring injury so Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow reverts to the bench. Jordan McLean has been promoted to the starting side and Coen Hess goes to the bench.
Vodafone Warriors: Stacey Jones has named the same 17 that was so impressive against the Bulldogs. Chanel Harris-Tavita is listed as 18th man as he looks to return from a knee injury. No changes to the squad in Thursday's 24-hour update.
Match: Cowboys v Warriors
Round 23 -
Fullback for Cowboys is number 1 Scott DrinkwaterFullback for Warriors is number 1 Reece Walsh
Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle FeldtWinger for Warriors is number 2 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Valentine HolmesCentre for Warriors is number 3 Viliami Vailea
Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Peta HikuCentre for Warriors is number 4 Marcelo Montoya
Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Murray TaulagiWinger for Warriors is number 5 Edward Kosi
Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Tom DeardenFive-Eighth for Warriors is number 6 Daejarn Asi
Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Chad TownsendHalfback for Warriors is number 7 Shaun Johnson
Prop for Cowboys is number 8 Jordan McLeanProp for Warriors is number 8 Addin Fonua-Blake
Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Reece RobsonHooker for Warriors is number 9 Wayde Egan
Prop for Cowboys is number 16 Coen HessProp for Warriors is number 10 Tohu Harris
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Jeremiah Nanai2nd Row for Warriors is number 11 Euan Aitken
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 15 Luciano Leilua2nd Row for Warriors is number 12 Jack Murchie
Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Jason TaumaloloLock for Warriors is number 13 Bunty Afoa
Interchange for Cowboys is number 10 Reuben CotterInterchange for Warriors is number 14 Freddy Lussick
Interchange for Cowboys is number 14 Hamiso Tabuai-FidowInterchange for Warriors is number 15 Tom Ale
Interchange for Cowboys is number 17 Griffin NeameInterchange for Warriors is number 16 Eliesa Katoa
Interchange for Cowboys is number 18 Jamayne Taunoa-BrownInterchange for Warriors is number 17 Josh Curran
Replacement for Cowboys is number 20 Jake GranvilleReplacement for Warriors is number 20 Dunamis Lui
- Referee: Chris Butler
- Touch Judge: Wyatt Raymond
- Touch Judge: Nick Morel
- Senior Review Official: Kasey Badger
Chad Townsend v Shaun Johnson: With 438 games between them, Townsend and Johnson have seen it all and then some. Townsend has had a profound influence on the Cowboys in his first season and his big-game experience will be invaluable come finals time. Johnson has chalked up seven try assists in his past six games and turned back the clock with a sizzling solo try against the Bulldogs. Both possess astute kicking games and whoever comes out on top in that department should be walking away with the two competition points.
The Cowboys and Vodafone Warriors entered the competition together in 1995 and have met on 44 occasions, with the winning ledger 23-21 in the Vodafone Warriors' favour (including three of the last four). Their past two meetings have been decided by a single point - the Vodafone Warriors winning 25-24 in golden point at Redcliffe's Moreton Daily Stadium in round five this year after the Cowboys prevailed 29-28 in round 12 last year thanks to a Val Holmes field goal with 41 seconds to play.