This time, it's personal.

North Queensland skipper Gavin Cooper admits today's NRL elimination final against defending premiers Cronulla should be billed as a grudge match.

Cooper said the Cowboys were feeling no pressure after being written off by experts since relying on other results to scrape into the top eight. But the Queensland Origin back-rower said they would not be short of motivation against their finals nemesis the Sharks at Allianz Stadium.

It will mark the fourth meeting between the two rivals in a sudden death final.


Cooper hinted that there would be some extra feeling in their knockout clash after Cronulla ended North Queensland's title defence with a dominant 32-20 win last year.

"It's been built up as a bit of a grudge match which I am not too unhappy about," he said.

Cowboys assistant Todd Payten also did not try to play down their rivalry.

"There's a history between us after the last couple of years in the semi-finals - there's a bit of feeling there, no doubt," he said.

Cooper did not expect North Queensland to silence the doubters even "after we beat the Sharks".

The Cowboys limped into the finals with just one win in their last six regular season games.

And no eighth-placed team has progressed past the first weekend of finals since the current system was adopted in 2012.

"People will write us off. They have done for the last little while and they will continue to do so even after we beat the Sharks," Cooper said.


"It's no pressure from the outside."

North Queensland have been hit by an injury list that ballooned to 12 just three weeks ago, including season casualties Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott.

Fullback Lachlan Coote (ankle), winger Antonio Winterstein (hamstring) and playmaker Te Maire Martin (knee) had to be monitored at training before being cleared to play against the Sharks.

"We've got nothing to lose. I don't think anyone gives us much of a chance, which is a good way to go into a finals series," Payten said.

"But internally we are pretty ambitious and expect a good showing.

"I think we have had enough practice without those [injured] boys and excuses are not what we are about."

Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend has vowed to heed the lessons of last year.

Townsend was hooked from the field in the first week of last year's finals after a lacklustre opening to the qualifying final against Canberra.

The Sharks came back to win the match, but Townsend still regards it as "one of the worst" performances of his six-year NRL career.

"I was devastated to be honest," said Townsend. "The day after, you sort of start to question what was it? Was it your preparation, was your head not on?

"Things weren't going my way then and my character was getting tested. I had to think about how can I show up and show I'm worthy of being here?"

The match was Townsend's first finals game in three years, and the 26-year-old went on to prove his worth and then some over the ensuing weeks.

He had one of the best games of his career against North Queensland in the preliminary final, and was a premiership-winning halfback the following week against Melbourne.

"From that Sunday night [after the Canberra match] I just decided to forget about it," he said. "I couldn't change what's happened in the past but what I could do was just knuckle down and turn up to training on Monday with my chest out and just control what I can control."

With three more finals games under his belt, he's adamant he's entering tonight's clash far better prepared than in 2016. "I learned that in those big games the best thing you can do is rely on your basic fundamentals. There is probably a bigger crowd and there is a bit more on the line but nothing else changes, everything else is the same."