Cowboys beat Sharks in champs’ NRL opener

North Queensland’s NRL premiership defence is off to the best possible start, defeating Cronulla 20-14 in Townsville.

Towering second-rower Ethan Lowe crashed through four Sharks defenders on Saturday night to score the match-winning try in the 74th minute after a spirited Cronulla comeback.

Veteran hooker Michael Ennis had charged down a Johnathan Thurston field goal attempt, very nearly leading to a Sharks runaway try, only for Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote to recover possession.

On the next play, Lowe charged over the line and the Cowboys claimed the spoils.

In front of a disappointing crowd of 15,519, the defending premiers had to dig deep to hold off a well-drilled Sharks outfit.

Had prop Andrew Fifita not dropped a crucial ball in full flight with time almost out, things might have turned out differently.

Cronulla gave up the first 12 points of the match, two four-pointers in a matter of minutes.

However, they showed plenty of grit to get back to 14-14 before back-rower Luke Lewis dropped the ball for what would have been a certain try with 10 minutes to go before the break.

A dropped Chad Townshend bomb by Coote just two minutes from halftime led to the Sharks’ half grabbing an easy clean-up try for fellow recruit James Maloney to convert from in front.

Injury also played a role, with Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein helped off with concussion and Sharks skipper Paul Gallen limping from the ground with 15 minutes to go with a right knee injury.

His counterpart, Thurston, decided to take two points just two minutes into the second 40 after the Cowboys’ first attack went 90 metres.

Jack Bird brought Cronulla right back into the contest with a lunging effort, Maloney’s second conversion reducing the Cowboys’ lead to two points with half an hour to play.

The Sharks were circling to take the lead but, predictably, Thurston saved the day by positioning himself perfectly to field an Ennis kick on the line to get his side out of trouble.

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