It was a big night for the Cowboys but a disappointing outcome for the Sharks, with the North Queensland side celebrating a 300-game milestone for skipper Jonathan Thurston with a 20-14 victory on home soil.
As Sharks coach Shane Flanagan would later express, his team was brave and battled hard, however errors and a lack of discipline at key moments let them down at crucial moments.
Adding to the Sharks woes was a potentially serious injury to debutant winger Sione Katoa, the youngster taken from the field midway through the second half and sent to hospital for x-rays on a possible broken jaw.
After the Cowboys had been denied an opening try by the video referee it was the Sharks who posted first points, Chad Townsend slotting a penalty goal to put his team up 2-0.
Following the early goal it took 23 minutes for the first try to be scored, Justin O’Neil crashing over in the south-western corner of 1300 SMILES Stadium and after Thurston’s attempt at conversion as waved away, the home team had a narrow 4-2 advantage.
After the subsequent kick off from the Sharks sailed over the dead ball line the Cowboys went back on the offensive and the Cronulla mistake was compounded when Coen Hess used a clever change of direction to touch down close to the uprights.
This time Thurston was on target and the Cowboys led 10-2 after 27 minutes of the match.
The Sharks then managed to get on the board and following some concerted pressure a well-weighted Chad Townsend grubber kick was gathered by Josh Dugan, with the centre scoring his first try for the club in his debut appearance in Cronulla colours.
Townsend kicked his second goal of the evening and the Cowboys lead had been narrowed to just two.
Losing concentration and allowing their opponents back down into their defensive zone the Sharks again conceded points, Kyle Feldt beating a handful of would-be defenders to score wide out.
The usually accurate Thurston, playing his milestone match, was wide again with his kick at goal and the Cowboys would take a 14-8 lead to the half time break.
A Thurston penalty goal from close range put North Queensland up by eight in the seventh minute of the second half and the Sharks task became a little more difficult when debutant winger Katoa was assisted from the field with the versatile Kurt Capewell shifting to the wing.
Fighting hard but with errors continuing to make life difficult, the Sharks enjoyed a piece of good fortune to narrow the margin when Ricky Leutele intercepted a Te Marie Martin pass, dashed down field, then passed to James Segeyaro who dashed the final 40 metres for the try.
Townsend kept his perfect kicking record intact with the conversion from wide out and the match was set for a grandstand finish with the Sharks trailing 16-14 entering the final 10 minutes of the match.
The Sharks had their chances, however two late mistakes and a 78th minute try from Dustin Cooper sealed their fate, with the Cowboys claiming a 22-14 win to open their season.
The Sharks now have just six days to respond and get ready for a local derby clash with St George Illawarra next Thursday.
Josh Dugan, James Segeyaro tries, Chad Townsend 3 goals
Kyle Feldt, Coen Hess, Justin O’Neil, Dustin Cooper tries, Jonathan Thurston 2 goals