North Queensland Cowboys: 20 (Taumalolo 2, Thurston tries; Thurston 3 goals; Thurston 2 field goals)
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks: 19 (Feki 2, Politoni tries; Gordon 3 goals; Holdsworth field goal)
The North Queensland Cowboys have locked up a spot in the NRL finals, but only after a mighty scare from a valiant Cronulla Sharks outfit, winning 20-19 in extra time.
In front of a home crowd of 11,372 fans, the Cowboys were expected to easily account for the lowly Sharks, however it took a wobbly Jonathon Thurston field goal to get them home.
For the Sharks, the result will have won many fans, with the inexperienced and young side showing plenty of heart missing their stars to injury and suspensions.
For the North Queensland side the result not only seals a finals berth, but also continues their possible drive towards the top four.
The script of the night looked like it would go to plan, when the Cowboys opened the scoring in just the second minute of the game when Jason Taumalolo barged his way over from close range for a 6-nil lead.
Things were turned on their head in the 7th minute, when the Sharks beautifully executed a set play. Hooker Pat Politini, starting in the Sharks side after the withdrawal of Michael Lichaa passed the ball to Chris Heighington who batted the ball inside to Michael Gordon, who went through a gaping hole. The Sharks fullback drew his opposite number before returning the ball to Politini to score and lock the game up.
And after 22 minutes of play the Sharks grabbed a six point lead courtesy of a converted try to Sosaia Feki, the Cronulla winger doing remarkably well to stay in the field of play and dive over in the corner.
But on the half hour mark, Thurston did it all himself for the Cowboys, his famous show and go getting him close enough to the line to push past the defence to score and lock the game at 12 a piece at the break.
Robert Lui when close to returning the Cowboys to the lead in the 52nd minute but lost the ball as he went over the line.
As a result, the home side looked to their big man again, Taumalolo forcing his way over the line in the 58th minute. Gordon did a remarkable job to seemingly have his leg underneath the big forward, however the decision stayed with the on field referee’s call of ‘try.’
The game appeared to be over when Thurston plotted a field goal in the 75th minute, but the Sharks refused to go away.
A short kick off from Gordon rolled its way to the 40m mark where Heighington collected the ball, and for the second time of the night a Gordon cut out pass to Feki lead to a try, and when Gordon converted, the game was back to a one point ball game.
Maligned five eighth Daniel Holdsworth looked to lock the game up with a field goal attempt two minutes from full time, however, shanking the ball.
On his second attempt he cleanly nailed the field goal from 45 metres out with less than half a minute left on the clock to have the game at 19-all at the end of regular time.
However, lead calmly by their seasoned captain Thurston, the Cowboys refused to let their finals dreams dim, marching down field in the second minute of extra time.
Within range, Thurston sent a wobbly field goal over to the accolades of the crowd for a 20-19 victory.