The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have dramatically fallen to the Cronulla Sharks in a pulsating Round 14 clash at Southern Cross Group Stadium tonight.
The 13-10 scoreline featured just two first-half tries, with cool-headed five-eighth James Maloney piloting over three penalties and a field goal to reassert the Sharks' dominance of the competition.
The Cowboys had two second-half try attempts disallowed as they failed to take advantage of key moments to fall to a fifth loss of the season and their second in their past three matches.
MONDAY SPITE FOOTBALL
Recent history between the clubs has been littered with stunning results, controversial decisions and a real sense of traditional rivalry.
The Cowboys and the Sharks have squared off in some big games recently and tonight’s encounter was no different.
Several angsty spotfires broke out in the match, with Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston and Sharks chief niggler Michael Ennis facing off in one instance, while players had to be separated several times as the NRL’s strict no-punching policy seemed at times to be the only thing stopping the sides from coming to blows.
THE TEAM AND THE INDIVIDUAL
When the combatants weren’t engaging in the niggle, the first half produced some dazzling football befitting a top-four clash.
The Cowboys showed trademark precision and teamwork to open the scoring in the opening five minutes as Antonio Winterstein saluted in the corner.
Winterstein showed strength and power to breach the defensive line and barge over, but he was the recipient of classic Cowboys backline play involving decisive running and crisp passing from Jake Granville, Thurston and finally Lachlan Coote, who delivered the money ball and earned a try assist for his selfless play.
The Sharks replied in stunning fashion when, in the 29th minute, Townsville product and winger Valentine Holmes streaked away 90m to score after latching on to an intercept from an errant Michael Morgan pass.
Holmes showed speed, evasion and finishing skills to touch down and even the scores, with the 8-all scoreline at the break courtesy of penalty goals to each side.
100th GAME MAN
Barnstorming lock Jason Taumalolo reached a special milestone tonight, marking his 100th Cowboys and NRL game at just 23 years of age, making him the youngest Cowboy to hit the milestone. The reigning Dally M lock of the year ran for 117m in his first stint and was the engine room of the Cowboys’ go-forward.
With the Cowboys effecting no less than five second-half drop goals, it was a minor miracle they didn’t concede any second-half tries, with the Sharks’ only score a go-ahead penalty goal, which was equalled by the Cowboys to lock things up at 10-all with 13 minutes remaining.
But Maloney piloted over the go-ahead field goal in the 70th minute as well as a late penalty goal to secure the Sharks’ 11th win of the year, while the Cowboys go into their first bye with a 9-5 record.
Having enjoyed a purple patch thus far in 2016 with stellar club form and Australian and Queensland selection, five-eighth Michael Morgan had an unhappy night, making several errors at important times.
CRONULLA SHARKS 13 (Valentine Holmes try; James Maloney goal, 3 pen. goals) def NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 10 (Antonio Winterstein try; Johnathan Thurston goal, 2 pen. goals) at Southern Cross Group Stadium.