Say goodbye to the “away game monkey” – the Cowboys have finally won on the road in 2014.
A dominant second half propelled North Queensland to a 36-18 win against Cronulla at Remondis Stadium to zoom to seventh place on a congested NRL ladder.
Captain Johnathan Thurston, wearing the No.16 jersey in honour of Alex McKinnon in the inaugural Rise For Alex round, scored a try in each half for a personal tally of 20 points, but he was probably edged out by Michael Morgan for man-of-the-match honours.
It’s the Cowboys’ fourth straight victory at Cronulla’s home ground and they’ll now face another away challenge – against Canterbury – next Saturday night.
The Cowboys were 1-17 with Curtis Rona as 18th man. They had five inclusions from their away loss to St George a fortnight ago – Johnathan Thurston, James Tamou, Rory Kostjasyn, Ray Thompson and John Asiata. In the only significant change to the Sharks line up, prop Sam Tagataese was left off what was a six-man bench. The Sharks’ four interchange players were Pat Politoni, Siosaia Vave, Tinirau Arona and Tim Robinson.
The Cowboys couldn’t have asked for a better start, scoring after just 68 seconds when Tariq Sims cleaned up the scraps after Sharks fullback Michael Gordon spilled a high ball under pressure from Michael Morgan on the chase.
Johnathan Thurston made it 6-0 from in front.
Before the 10-minute mark had arrived, NQ had a try to Rory Kostjasyn overturned by the video referees, who took an age to come to their verdict on whether the hooker had touched the sideline before grounding, and Thurston claimed one that couldn’t be knocked back, fighting his way over out wide.
After repelling the Sharks for four straight sets, and being on the end of a lop-sided penalty count, the Cowboys made it 16-0 thanks to winger Antonio Winterstein, who collected a Morgan cutout pass and touched down in the corner, setting up JT for a trademark swinging sideline conversion.
Two Cowboys went on report in a matter of minutes – Ashton Sims and Robert Lui – although it would be a surprise if either faces a penalty for their tackles from the match review panel.
Responsible for two 20-point-plus comebacks in the past month, the Sharks worked their way back into the contest with two tries in the final five minutes of the half.
Jonathan Wright climbed highest and managed to ground a Fa’amanu Brown crosskick before Luke Lewis stepped inside a couple of would-be defenders to provide the home team with even more momentum to take into half time.
Thurston kicked a penalty goal to make the lead six after the Cowboys had spent the opening minutes of the first half desperately defending their own line.
Robert Lui was held up over the line searching for NQ’s fourth try and Winterstein would have had a double if he’d been able to reign in a long ball from his captain.
It was a tremendous solo try from Michael Morgan that eventually got the Cowboys started again in the second 40.
Despite having four Sharks hanging on to him, the Cowboys No.1 somehow managed to get an arm free to plant the ball on the try line under the Cronulla crossbar.
Glenn Hall found his way over for his first try of 2014 seven minutes later and the win was secured thanks to Thurston’s second – a one-on-one strip on Michael Gordon that was given the okay upstairs after initially being ruled as a no try on the field.
A try to Gordon with six minutes left was the only response that came from the home team who now look well out of finals contention.
The Cowboys completed an impressive 32 of 36 sets in possession with James Tamou (153m) the leading ground gainer, just ahead of Tariq Sims (150m).
Stepping up in the continued absence of forwards leader Matt Scott, Tamou also led the tackle count with 27.
As well as his vital try, Morgan’s great night featured two linebreaks, six tackle busts, at least one try-saving tackle and impeccable hands under the high ball in difficult windy conditions.
Cowboys: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Matthew Wright, 3 Tautau Moga, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Robert Lui, 16 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Ashton Sims, 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 James Tamou, 11 Tariq Sims, 12 Jason Taumalolo, 13 Glenn Hall. Interchange: 14 Ray Thompson, 15 Scott Bolton, 17 Sam Hoare, 18 John Asiata.
Sharks: 1. Michael Gordon 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jonathan Wright 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Jacob Gagan 6. Fa'amanu Brown 7. Jeff Robson 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Michael Lichaa 10. Bryce Gibbs 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Anthony Tupou. Interchange: 14. Pat Politoni 15. Siosaia Vave 17. Tinirau Arona 19. Tim Robinson.
Cowboys 36 (Tariq Sims, Johnathan Thurston 2, Antonio Winterstein, Michael Morgan, Glenn Hall; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals)
Sharks 18 (Jonathan Wright, Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon tries; Michael Gordon 3 goals)