The North Queensland Cowboys made another famous finals comeback to beat last year’s premiers Cronulla in a thrilling extra time match, winning 15-14 at Allianz Stadium and progressing to the second week of the finals.
EXTRA TIME MADNESS
The last game of finals week one did not disappoint, with both sides fighting hard and – not able to seal a win in the 80 minutes – going to extra time. The last 10 minutes of the fixture was frantic, the do-or-die period created chaotic moments that were both captivating and frustrating to watch. The Cowboys chanced their arm with a shift in the first minute to have the linesman call one of the passes forward, allowing the Sharks a crack at points within the North Queensland half. Cronulla’s possession was short-lived with a loose handle of the ball by Luke Lewis from a Jason Taumalolo hit, which allowed the Cowboys to get the ball back just a minute later. The set from the Cowboys that was charged out from their own 30 metre line was pulled up close to the Sharks line before a bomb by Michael Morgan was caught by fullback Valentine Holmes to sprint away, but with his own speed he lost his footing and lost the ball. Before the first half of the extended period ended a Morgan field goal had the Cowboys lead for the first time in the match; the second period of extra time saw James Maloney unable to take a chance at a field goal for the Sharks to level and kick into the corner via Lewis on his right edge. There was one last chance given to the 2016 premiers with a touch finder by the Cowboys but, unable to judge the moment, Andrew Fifita fumbled the ball and ended the Sharks’ campaign.
MORGAN SINKS SHARKS
The Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan produced one of his best individual efforts in his career to steer his side – against all odds – to beat the full-strength Sharks. Morgan, pushed into the lead playmaker role in the opening rounds of the season, blossomed into a top-tier player, showing he can play outstanding football and dictate the result without Johnathon Thurston and Matt Scott leading the side. Morgan was peppered early with Sharks second rower Wade Graham putting huge pressure on him as the Cowboys were struggling for answers and giving away penalties in the first half. The second half brought opportunities for the Cowboys after a James Maloney sin bin allowed Morgan – in the last minute of the sin binning – to pass a long crucial ball to his winger Kyle Feldt to score in the corner and only trail 8-6. The extra time period had Morgan step up and control what was a wild match, holding the Sharks out in the final stages and also finding a way to capitalise on Cronulla’s errors to kick his first field goal in first grade and clinically choke out the opposition with precise playmaking decisions to finish an unbelievable win.
The most unlikely of decisions were made over the the first week of finals, with heated discussion around Bunker involvement and decisions by on-field officials. The Sunday afternoon clash saw another blunder within the opening two minutes and a potentially incorrect call by the referees to award a try to Cronulla. The Cowboys were perplexed by the call when their winger Antonio Winterstein was placed under a bomb which was then successfully collected metres out from his line, tackled by chasing Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend and Luke Lewis, driving Winterstein back to lose the ball and place a part of his arm on the ball within the goal-line. The on-field referees saw the ball leave the hand of the winger but thought he had not touched it again for Townsend to score a try for the Sharks to go up 6-0. Many of the North Queensland fans were outraged but were lucky enough to see their team come back and win to escape another controversial call that could have ended their season.
THE FINALS RIVALRY CONTINUES
Cronulla and North Queensland have built a fantastic rivalry in the space of a few years. The two teams are responsible for ending each other’s premiership defences as well as two huge and controversial matches in four meetings. The Cowboys – in the finals for seven straight years – have met Cronulla in a preliminary, semi and elimination final over the past five years. Each side has won two matches with a thrilling extra-time match in this year’s final series; if these teams are to meet once again in the finals it will surely be the incredible spectacle that everyone has come to love, with both line-ups boasting phenomenal players and match winners in the most heated of battles.
North Queensland Cowboys 15 Tries: Feldt, Taumalolo Goals: Lowe 3/3 Field Goals: Morgan 1/1
Cronulla Sharks 14
Tries: Townsend, Bird Goals: Maloney 3/3