A tough performance from the Cronulla Sharks on Saturday night saw them overshadow the North Queensland Cowboys 28-16 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Right from the kick-off, it appeared that both the Sharks and the Cowboys were prepared for a fierce, defence-oriented battle. This mindset was exemplified by both teams in the opening exchanges, with both the Sharks and Cowboys’ backlines being powerfully driven into the turf by their opposition forwards. Whilst the Cowboys exhibited great resilience in defence in the opening 10-minute period, the first try of the match came in the 12th minute to Sharks backrower Luke Lewis, courtesy of a great right hand-shift from Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend. The response from the Cowboys came just four minutes later, when a sublime short ball from halfback Johnathan Thurston saw a rampaging Coen Hess muscle his way past Sharks Ricky Leutele and Scott Sorenson to score on the right-hand side. It wasn’t until the 33rd minute that the next set of points came, in the form of a Cowboys penalty goal. It was this kick from Johnathan Thurston that levelled the score at 6-6 and ensured that nothing separated the two teams at half-time.
After a somewhat dire first half, the boys from Cronulla emerged with more determination in both defence and attack. A handling error from the Cowboys in the 48th minute provided the foundation for the Sharks’ second try, in which Townsend sliced through the Cowboys’ defensive line and scored under the posts to put his team in front by six points. On the back of a repeat set, a gallant charge from Hess gave Jordan McLean the opportunity to spin out of a tackle and crash over to level the score at 12 a-piece with 16 minutes remaining. Just minutes after returning from a long stint on the interchange bench, Sharks prop Andrew Fifita made his presence felt and elevated the Sharks’ lead to six points. A Cowboys fightback appeared to be on the cards when Gavin Cooper scored a terrific try in the left-hand corner, becoming the first backrower to score seven tries in as many games since 1918. However, two late tries to in the 76th and 79th minutes, to Josh Dugan and Jayson Bukuya respectively, put the icing on the cake and ensured a Sharks victory. In what was a torrid affair, the boys from Cronulla managed to secure a 28-16 victory over a valiant Cowboys side.
JT’s Sydney Farewell Spoiled
Despite their vow to ensure that Johnathan Thurston’s last outing in Sydney would be a victory, as we have seen so many times in 2018, the Cowboys were unable to continue their winning streak, falling victim to a late shark attack. Whilst the Cowboys did challenge the Sharks’ defensive line many times throughout this Round 23 clash, it was not enough to stop their rampaging forwards from creating havoc in the dying stages.
Injuries Sour Sharks Victory
When considering that the Sharks played with just 15 men for a large period of the game, their 12-point victory was very impressive. However, coach Shane Flanagan faces a nervous wait over the injuries to his explosive centres, Jesse Ramien (ankle) and Ricky Leutele (knee). Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan, despite playing out the match, also appeared to pick up lower leg injuries in the second half. For the sake of the Sharks’ finals hopes, it is hoped that each player proves their fitness and are ready to tackle the Newcastle Knights in Round 24.
Late Surge Breaks Hearts of Cowboys
Whilst it was a gutsy performance, the absence of both Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo was apparent in the final five minutes when the Cowboys couldn’t muster any plays to exploit the Sharks’ defence. With only two games remaining in the regular season, the Cowboys are in serious danger of receiving the wooden spoon if they don’t secure victory over the Parramatta Eels and Gold Coast Titans in Rounds 24 and 25, respectively.
Sharks Circle Top Four
In the context of their season, this victory could not have come at a better time for the Sharks. Securing the two points in this Round 23 clash has elevated the boys from Cronulla to 30 competition points (sixth place), in a three-way tie with the St. George Illawarra Dragons and Penrith Panthers. When considering that the Sharks are only two points adrift of the competition leading Melbourne Storm, they have a real chance to enhance their position if they defeat the Newcastle Knights and Canterbury Bulldogs in the last two games of the regular season.
Cronulla Sharks 28
Tries: Luke Lewis, Chad Townsend, Andrew Fifita, Josh Dugan, Jayson Bukuya
Goals: Valentine Holmes 4
North Queensland Cowboys 16
Tries: Coen Hess, Jordan McLean, Gavin Cooper
Goals: Johnathan Thurston 2
Cronulla Sharks: 1 Valentine Holmes, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Jesse Ramien, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Josh Dugan, 6 Matt Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 15 James Segeyaro, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Scott Sorenson, 13 Paul Gallen. Interchange: 14 Kurt Capewell, 16 Aaron Woods, 17 Jayson Bukuya, 18 Joseph Paulo.
North Queensland Cowboys: 1 Te Maire Martin, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Gideon Gela-Mosby, 6 Jake Clifford, 7 Johnathan Thurston, 17 Scott Bolton, 9 Jake Granville, 10 Jordan McLean, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 John Asiata. Interchange: 14 Ben Hampton, 15 Francis Molo, 16 Corey Jensen, 18 Ethan Lowe.