The Cronulla Sharks have defeated the North Queensland Cowboys 26-16 at 1300 Smiles Stadium on Saturday night.
It was a night of milestones for the Sharks with James Maloney making his 200th NRL appearance and Ricky Leutele his 100th.
With Jayden Brailey also returning for the Sharks and a top 4 spot up for grabs, the match was always going to see Cronulla put in.
Brailey opened the scoring in the 6th minute after a beautiful break from Luke Lewis on the right edge. Brailey was following through on the 300 game veteran’s inside and was rewarded with a try on his return to the top flight.
James Maloney’s conversion attempt was successful and the Sharks were ahead 6-0 after seven minutes.
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen was next on the scoreboard as he went over for the Sharks’ second try of the evening. James Maloney received the ball close to the line, dummied and broke the Cowboys line before getting to the Ben Hampton. Maloney drew in the fullback and passed to Gallen who would cross over for an easy try.
Maloney’s conversion from in front of the sticks was good and the Sharks were ahead 12-0 after 11 minutes.
The Cowboys looked to get them when Ben Hampton knocked on in goal in the 14th minute after a brilliant try-saving tackle from Valentine Holmes.
The Sharks would then turn defensive pressure into attack and march their way deep down into Cowboys territory. They manoeuvred the play so well into the Cowboys end that Gerard Beale had a chance to cross over for his own try in the 20th minute. Some strong defence though from Kayln Ponga though kept the Kiwi international out.
The Cowboys eventually got themselves on the board after a relieving penalty from the Sharks, where the home side were able to get themselves easy metres. The pressure began to take its toll on the Sharks and the Cowboys simply used their numbers to allow Te Mare Martin to cross over in the 22nd minute.
Ethan Lowe converted the try and score would be 12-6 after 24 minutes.
The Sharks were next to trouble the scorers when Chad Townsend took the ball to the line, shaped to go wide 10m out however jinked inside to go over himself. James Maloney converted and the Sharks lead went out to 18-6.
The Sharks continued their dominant first half when they put themselves deep into Cowboys territory once again and James Maloney, in his 200th NRL match took the ball to the line and found Valentine Holmes screaming through on his inside.
Holmes crossed over for his first try in the NRL in his hometown of Townsville and put the Sharks even further ahead at 1300 Smiles Stadium.
Maloney’s conversion was successful and the Sharks lead went to 24-6. The score would remain the same at the break and both sides would enjoy a well earnt break.
James Segeyaro’s attempt in the 62nd minute was the first real scoring chance of the second half. The Sharks dummy half scooped the ball up in a quick play the ball and thought he had caught the Cowboys defence napping, only to be held up over the line.
The Cowboys then looked to have gotten themselves back into the game when Coen Hess picked up a lose ball deep in his own territory and took off up field. However, the Sharks defence was up to the challenge, led by Andrew Fifita who brought down the speedy youngster.
The Cowboys weren’t able to handle the good field position and they lost the ball forward, once again handing the ball back to the Sharks.
From the ensuing play, the Sharks worked their way down into Cowboys territory off the back of a few penalties. The play culminated in yet another penalty after Jason Taumalolo was penalised in the ruck and James Maloney kicked a penalty goal in the 69th minute to take the score to 26-6.
The home side were down but not out and whilst they were down on troops, they shown determination in the fight.
As the pressed the Sharks left hand defence, Ethan Lowe crashed over for the Cowboys in the 72nd minute to get his side back in the contest. With Wade Graham sitting out for the second half due to a calf strain, the slip highlighted Graham’s strength in defence. Low converted his own try to take the score to 26-12.
With the clock winding down and less than a minute left, Michael Morgan scored a late consolation try for his side after breaking his way through some would-be Sharks defence. Lowe missed with his conversion attempt and the score remained 26-16 when the full-time siren sounded.
Up next for the Sharks is a mouth-watering clash against the Sydney Roosters in our final match of 2017 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.