North Queensland’s NRL premiership defence wasn’t just ended by Cronulla – it was obliterated.
Friday night’s score of 32-20 did more than flatter the Cowboys as they ran in three consolation tries in the final 10 minutes to save some face.
After surviving an extra-time thriller against Brisbane last week, many questioned if they would have enough in the tank to beat Cronulla if it went to the dying stages.
But the Allianz Stadium contest barely lasted that long.
The Cowboys looked like a heavyweight boxer trying to hang in for the final bell at the end of the 12th round.
The only problem was, there was still the best part of 75 minutes to go.
Fullback Lachlan Coote knocked on with his first kick return, and by the end of the first half-hour, North Queensland had completed only four sets.
In a two-minute period that summarised the match, Johnathan Thurston was put on his backside by a rampaging Valentine Holmes on a kick return in the 39th minute.
A moment later, the Sharks ended the set by rag-dolling the Cowboys co-captain back into his own goal to force a line dropout.
The halftime siren went and the Cowboys were saved of defending an extra set, but by then the Cowboys had conceded double the running metres of Cronulla, made an extra 49 tackles and had just 35 per cent of the ball.
“It’s extremely hard when you keep shooting yourself in the foot,” Thurston said.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing normal games or semi-final games you need to be playing your best footy and we were far from our best tonight.”
“We just kept turning the ball over and we couldn’t transition from defending well into attack and our fifth tackle options weren’t great, we didn’t have too many of them.”
Coote rebounded almost immediately after halftime when he scored off a fumbled kick, but within 15 minutes the Sharks had landed the knockout blows.
First through Luke Lewis, and then by James Maloney in the next set to put an end to their premiership defence.
Then Maloney scored again, as the tired Cowboys defence’s missed tackle count reached 37.
“It just took too much out of us defending in the first half,” Thurston said.
“We just couldn’t transition into attack because we were just too zapped.”
And with it ended their shot at becoming the first team since Brisbane in 1992-93 to win back-to-back premierships in a unified competition.