Cronulla have jumped over the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys on the NYC ladder after scoring a 24-22 victory in their round 19 match at Remondis Stadium tonight.
The Sharks, who had gone more than three months without a victory but drew with competition leaders Newcastle on Sunday, managed to fight back from an 18-6 deficit in the first half.
There was no shortage of opportunities for North Queensland, who came up with a 78th-minute try to winger Conor Carey to almost snatch a draw.
Corey Jensen’s kick from the sideline into a strong southerly wind was on line but fell short.
It was a horror beginning for the Cowboys, who knocked on the opening kick off, conceded a penalty soon after and then allowed Sharks hooker Bradley Deitz to creep over from dummy-half in just the second minute.
Before having a tackle in possession, the visitors trailed 6-0.
However, by the midway point of the half, the Cowboys had a 12-point lead – and deservedly so.
Their first try was a close-range effort from Fijian front-rower Viliame Kikau who beat two defenders to get to the line, and they followed up with a smart move to the right that Lenny Magey finished off.
By the 19-minute mark, the Cowboys had made it three straight tries with skipper Jack Kelleher claiming the third a couple of plays later after a long break downfield by Kikau and Josh Chudleigh.
Jensen, who provided a fine offload in the lead-up for Magey’s try, added all three conversions to give NQ an 18-6 lead.
Sharks captain Anthony Moraitis benefitted from a dubious knock-on no call to cut into the Cowboys’ advantage, and they cashed in again via five-eighth Jayden Clarke in the 29th minute when their opponents were down to 12 with Akeripa Tia Kilifi in the sin-bin for backchat.
The Cowboys almost snared the lead when their centre returned just before the break – Dan Clarke denied a try from dummy-half when referee Kasey Badger ruled that Coen Hess had infringed in the play-the-ball.
The ref also intervened to deny Cronulla a try early in the second half, calling a forward pass to cost Joshua Addo-Carr a four-pointer.
But just as the Sharks seemed to be gaining some control, Tia Kilifi partly made up for his sin-binning when he beat six defenders in an 80-metre run down that was only stopped 10 metres from the line.
Cronulla had a player despatched for 10 minutes in the aftermath, giving the Cowboys a golden opportunity to regain the lead.
They spent most of the extra man period deep in attack without being able to convert their chances – a pattern that continued for the rest of the night until Carey scored off a chip-kick from Cooper Bambling inside the final two minutes.
When the Sharks were restored to 13, they scored almost immediately with Clarke breaking the line to produce a fine solo try with 18 minutes left on the clock.
Kikau almost levelled up inside the final five but was held up over the line, adjacent to the posts.
Unfortunately for NQ, Carey’s try came too late, and too close to the sideline, to end their winless run which now stretches to five matches.