North Queensland’s 11-game winning streak ended in spectacular fashion on Saturday as the NRL’s comeback kings surrendered an 18-point lead to lose 24-18 to Cronulla in Townsville.
The Cowboys went into the match without co-captain Johnathan Thurston, who was rested by coach Paul Green due to his State of Origin exertions, but they were undiminished and raced out to an 18-0 halftime lead.
Still, the Sharks refused to hoist the white flag and piled on 24 unanswered points for a stunning second-half turnaround.
The Sharks, missing captain Paul Gallen to a rib injury, were dreadful in the first half, conceding eight errors and four penalties while lacking any enthusiasm or intensity.
Cowboys hooker Jake Granville capitalised in the 13th minute, slicing through some threadbare defence to run 55 metres and touch down.
Michael Morgan split the right edge to put Justin O’Neill over after 18 minutes and a blowout looked on the cards when Antonio Winterstein crossed in the 27th minute.
But whatever coach Shane Flanagan said in the sheds stung the Sharks into action.
They were gifted three consecutive penalties to open the second term, which allowed Luke Lewis the opportunity to cross, and Michael Gordon’s conversion pegged the difference back to 12.
Granville was then put on report for a seemingly innocuous tackle on Sharks winger Sosaia Feki, with the ensuing penalty again giving Cronulla valuable field position.
Sam Tagatese made the most of it, crossing next to the sticks in the 48th minute to present Gordon with a straightforward conversion.
Valentine Holmes jinked and sliced his way 70 metres upfield to give the Sharks a platform from which Andrew Fifita slammed the ball down in the 62nd minute before Gordon converted to lock up the scores.
Then Ricky Leutele scored what turned out to be the match-winner in the 66th minute.
Three players were placed on report, with Sharks duo Matt Prior and Michael Ennis joining Granville.