The North Queensland Cowboys were looking to halt an eight-game losing streak as they set out to be the party poopers against a Cronulla Sharks side who needed the win to re-establish their four point lead in eighth place after a stunning win for the New Zealand Warriors earlier in the day.
The Sharks coach John Morris welcomed Andrew Fifita and Briton Nikora to his ranks while the Cowboys coach Josh Hannay had Connelly Lemuelu, Daejarn Asi, Tom Gilbert and Valentine Holmes in their seventeen-man squad.
The bookies thought that the Sharks were a shoo-in for the win but the Cowboys had nothing to lose and were there to spring a surprise.
The Sharks were stunned by the Cowboys opening when a Scott Drinkwater pass found Carl Feldt on a big overlap to walk over from ten metres out. Valentine Holmes swung his kick between the uprights from wide near the touchline.
The Sharks were on the board on fourteen after just having a try ruled out by the bunker, Briton Nikora pushed through a hole in the Cowboys defence, showing some neat footwork. Braydon Trindall added the conversion to level the scores at 6-6. The Sarks bossing the game after their early setback.
A sensational Sharks second put the home side in front. A long ball from Will Kennedy found Sione Katoa who flew over in the right corner to ground one-handed as the cover tackler tried to get him into touch. Trindall was unable to add the conversion from the touchline.
Brayden Hamlin-Uele stormed through the Cowboys defence to score from ten metres out after a Blayke Brailey 40-20 had given the Sharks field position. Trindall converted, the ball passing between the sticks off the far upright for 16-6.
As the teams left the field at the interval there was a mass clash by the tunnel entrance with plenty of wresting for a minute or so before the sides went to the changing rooms.
Two minutes after the restart a beautiful passing move over forty metres saw the ball end up in the hands of Talakai who threw the outside dummy and stepped inside the last line of defence to walk in for the try. Trindall put his conversion right between the sticks, the Sharks edging closer to their top eight finish.
Cronulla scored their fifth try of the evening on seventy, Connor Tracey taking a pass ten from the line and managing to get the ball on the line under the tackle of two Cowboys defenders. His half-back partner Trindall added the extra two for 28-6, the Sharkies now four points clear of the Warriors in eighth.
With three minutes remaining Carl Feldt got the ball on the ground in the right corner as a late Cowboys consolation. Holmes added a touchline goal to wrap up the scoring at 28-12.
This was a confident and professional performance from the Sharks who cemented their place in the top eight and went one step closer to securing a play-off position at the end of the regular season. The Cowboys were outplayed, despite opening the scoring, as Cronulla controlled the full eighty and inflicted the Cowboys ninth consecutive defeat.
Cronulla Sharks: Kennedy, Katoa (T), Dugan, Ramien, Mulitalo, Tracey (T), Trindall (4G), Hamlin-Uele (T), Brailey, Woods, Nikora (T), Wade, Sorensen. Subs: Rudolf, Talakai (T), Hunt, Fifita.
North Queensland Cowboys: Drinkwater, Feldt (2T), O’Neill, Lemuelu, Holmes (2G), Asi, Morgan, Molo, Cotter, McLean, Dunn, Hess, McGuire. Subs: Granville, Asiata, Gilbert, Jensen.
Referee: Chris Sutton.
Ground: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney.