The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have triumphantly booked a passage into the 2015 National Rugby League Preliminary final against the Storm with a sublime 39-0 shutout of the Cronulla Sharks at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.
In front of nearly 22,000 screaming fans, the Cowboys showed brilliant defence and, clinical and enterprising execution to race in seven tries and book a spot in the grand final qualifier.
Recent slow starts were a thing of the past as a 19-0 halftime lead ballooned out in the second half with a Michael Morgan double among the highlights of one of the best Cowboys’ performances of the year.
The win marked the Cowboys sixth home finals win – they haven’t lost a post-season match in Townsville – and made a mockery of the Sharks’ 2015 regular season dominance of the NQ side. Cronulla beat the Cowboys home and away in 2015 but a hat-trick of victories wasn’t even close as the Cowboys made every post a winner.
They will face their round 25 conquerors Melbourne next Saturday night at AAMI Park.
After a settling penalty in the third minutes, the Cowboys – who had conceded first points in their past seven games – scored the opening try of the match in the ensuing set. Following a barnstorming run and line break by inspirational skipper Matt Scott, fellow forwards Jason Taumalolo and James Tamou further dented the defensive line before five-eighth Michael Morgan found space out wide thanks to slick hands.
A Sharks raid against the run of play was thwarted thanks to Morgan’s covering defence on a streaking Valentine Holmes, and it wasn’t long before an inspired Scott led his forwards back into Cronulla’s red zone.
The visitors hung tough for a time, but in the 16th minute, their defence was unlocked by Morgan, who found a flying Justin O’Neill down the right-hand edge for a superb long-range try, with Thurston’s conversion putting the home side ahead 12-0.
Consistent raids were again scuppered by Cronulla as the home side continued to enjoy the glut of first-half possession, with over 60% of the ball. That weight of football again caused the Sharks’ wall to crack as interchange Cowboys forward Scott Bolton charged over from a Rory Kostjasyn inside ball to advance the score to 18-0, which it would have remained going into the halftime break were it not for the genius of Thurston who piloted a field over on the siren for a 19-0 advantage.
Five minutes into the second half and Morgan again scythed over, showing speed and strength as the Sharks defence were again found wanting out wide. Thurston converted and a 25-0 scoreline was rapidly erasing those ghosts of regular season games past.
Further Tries to wingers Antonio Winterstein, Kyle Feldt and backrower Ethan Lowe blew out the scoreline and ensured the Cowboys advance to the grand final qualifier.
In a true team effort, no fewer than eight Cowboys players made more than 100m apiece in a win that will no doubt please coach Paul Green headed into week 3 of the finals.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 39 (Michael Morgan 2, Justin O’Neill, Scott Bolton, Antonio Winterstein, Kyle Feldt, Ethan Lowe tries; Johnathan Thurston 4 goals, pen. goal, field goal) def CRONULLA SHARKS 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 21,683