The effort and intensity couldn’t be faulted however execution at vital times has let the Sharks down with the Cowboys escaping with a 20-14 win in Townsville.
The Sharks battled back from an early deficit, locking the score up at 14-all with a quarter of the contest remaining, but in the end run it was the Cowboys who would prevail, an Ethan Lowe try in the 75th minute clinching the win for the home team.
Further adding to the Sharks woes, skipper Paul Gallen limped from the field midway through the second half with a knee problem. Scans early in the week will determine the extent of the injury.
While Sharks coach Shane Flanagan is certain to be disappointed with the final result, there was enough to like about the performance of his side to give them plenty to look forward to in the weeks ahead.
After some sustained Sharks attack the first points of the match came somewhat against the run of play, Justin O’Neil winning the race to a Cowboys grubber kick for the first score of the night.
Johnathan Thurston converted and it was 6-0 to the home side after 15 minutes gone.
Keeping the pressure on the Cowboys marched back down the field and they managed to add to their lead, this time it was Kane Linnett running strongly onto a Thurston pass to crash over.
Again the extra two was added and North Queensland were ahead 12-0.
In slippery conditions ball handling was an issue for both teams and on the stroke of half time it would be the Sharks who were the beneficiaries of a handling error.
Chasing his own bomb Chad Townsend scooped up a drop from Lachlan Coote before making a 15-metre dash to touchdown.
With his first kick at goal in Sharks colours James Maloney was on target, with the teams going to the break with the Cowboys up by 12-6.
A Thurston penalty put the Cowboys up by eight, but the Sharks fought back, Jack Bird showing outstanding strength to hold off a couple of would-be defenders to plant the ball down.
Again Maloney was perfect with his kick at goal and it was anyone’s game at 14-12 Cowboys with 30 minutes of the match sill to go.
With their tails up the Sharks went back on the attack and a penalty just 20 metres out allowed Maloney the chance to even up the score and he didn’t disappoint, his kick at goal making it 14-all with 20 minutes left.
With Gallen limping from the field the Sharks were all of a sudden under all sorts of pressure and following a repeat set the Cowboys would cross for the match-winner, Ethan Lowe brushing aside a couple of tired defenders to score near to the posts.
Thurston kicked the goal and the Cowboys were up by six at 20-14 with less than five minutes left on the clock.
The Sharks had one final shot at the North Queensland side, Andrew Fifita poking his big frame through the line, but another error sealed their fate as time ran out.
The Sharks were brave if not brilliant, with Jayson Bukuya amongst their best, the back rower a constant threat with the ball, while Bird proved a handful in the centres.
In the middle of the ruck Michael Ennis, Wade Graham and Luke Lewis toiled hard and halves Maloney and Townsend had their moments with their combination sure to improve as the weeks go on.
The Sharks will now look to regroup ahead of next Sunday’s local derby blockbuster against the St George Illawarra Dragons at Shark Park.
Chad Townsend, Jack Bird tries, James Maloney 3 goals
Justin O’Neil, Kane Linnett tries, Johnathan Thurston 4 goals
15 mins – Cowboys 6-0 - O’Neil try
20 mins – Cowboys 12-0 - Linnett
37 mins – Cowboys 12-6 – Townsend try, Maloney goal
43 mins – Cowboys 14-6 – Thurston penalty goal
49 mins – Cowboys 14-12 – Bird try, Maloney goal
59 mins – 14-all – Maloney goal
74 mins – Cowboys 20-14 - Ethan Lowe try, Thurston goal