Cronulla down Cowboys in Townsville

North Queensland’s NRL finals prospects took another hit while Cronulla remain focused on the top four after the Sharks enjoyed a comfortable 26-18 win in Townsville.

Defending premiers Cronulla were simply too good for an undermanned Cowboys side that slipped to a third straight loss and added outside back Kalyn Ponga and forward John Asiata to their already lengthy injured list.

Ponga and Asiata (both arm injuries) were taken off early in the second half, reducing the Cowboys to 15 men for the third straight game and cruelling any hopes of what would’ve been an unlikely comeback.

Cronulla’s win was built on an impressive first half effort where they piled on 24 points but coach Shane Flanagan will still see plenty of room for improvement after his team added just two more in the final 40 minutes.

Jayden Brailey put the Sharks in front after just six minutes when evergreen forward Luke Lewis found the hooker close to the line.

The lead was doubled soon after with James Maloney putting Cronulla captain Paul Gallen over untouched under the posts.

Cowboys fullback Ben Hampton looked to have closed the gap when he crashed over the try line but an excellent last second tackle from his opposite number Valentine Holmes denied the home side a four-pointer.

Hampton was in the thick of it again when he made a fine flying tackle to deny Gerard Beale a certain try and when Te Maire Martin pounced on a Michael Morgan grubber the Cowboys were back in the game.

Just when things were looking up for the hosts Morgan was taken from field for his second head injury assessment (HIA) in as many weeks, with Hampton moving to the halves and Ponga to fullback.

A knock on from Cowboy debutant Enari Tuala led to a close range try to halfback Chad Townsend in the next set and the undermanned Cowboys were exposed again three minutes later when Holmes crossed.

North Queensland’s horror injury toll hit a new low when Asiata suffered an arm injury while making a tackle in the opening minute of the second period and Ponga’s night also ended.

A HIA to Jason Taumalolo made for further Cowboys misery but the home side hung tough and picked up late consolation tries to Ethan Lowe and Morgan.

The Cowboys (28 points) are still in eighth but have St George Illawarra (26) and Canberra (24 with a game in hand) close enough to strike. Meanwhile Cronulla (32 points) go to fourth on for and against.

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