An 85th minute penalty goal from Michael Morgan saw the North Queensland Cowboys knock reigning Premiers Cronulla out of the finals series.
The hosts led 14-6 midway through the second half but a Jason Taumalolo try helped the Cowboys take to the game to golden point before Morgan’s one-pointer sealed the victory and a meeting with Parramatta in the preliminary final.
1 Sharks halves form dip from 2016 costly
James Maloney and Chad Townsend led Cronulla to their first ever Grand Final victory last year. They tore the Cowboys to pieces in the preliminary final last year. But Townsend chose to go down the Broncos path of booting the ball into touch with 20 minutes left to play.
At least Townsend managed to stay on the pitch for the full 80 minutes. Maloney picked up a yellow card just before the break, with the boot of Ethan Lowe and Kyle Feldt earning six points with the extra man either side of half time.
Maloney played a peripheral role in the latter stages of the game too, when his side looked shell-shocked that they had been held to a draw at the end of 80 minutes. Neither half organised their team well enough in this period to set them up for a field goal and in the end, it was the undoing of their season.
2 Back to back, too tough to crack
Nobody has won back-to-back Premierships since the Broncos in 1993 and 1994. The Cowboys confirmed that it will be at least one more year before that record is broken after knocking out the reigning Premiers.
The Sharks rode off the back of Luke Lewis brilliance for much of the season as Paul Gallen too toiled away through the hard yakka stuff in the middle. However, the losses of Michael Ennis and Ben Barba proved too much to overcome, with members of the 2016 squad also not finding the same form as last year.
Cronulla limped into the finals again however everyone knew the side did not have the same feel to them, as they were not executing as well as their maiden premiership year. Even when gifted opportunity after opportunity on the Cowboys line in the first half, the Sharks could not capitalise. If any side is to go back-to-back then they will have to improve and adapt their attack. Playing the exact same footy will simply not work.
3 Cowboys get it right without Co-Captains
When co-captains Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston picked up season-ending injuries, many fans thought that the Cowboys' finals hopes would already be over. A couple of international representatives stepped up to the plate and it has made Morgan the player he is today, with his service and craft often pulling teams apart single-handedly this season.
Morgan's calm demeanour when the game was on the line broke Cronulla hearts and sent Cowboys fans into delirium as they moved into the next week of the finals.
Try scorer Taumalolo has always been key in ensuring the Cowboys could continue without Scott and Thurston. Alongside his crucial four-pointer, he made 256 metres and completed 37 tackles against one of the best packs in the competition.
His rise has been incredible and if it were not for his performance yesterday, the Cowboys would have quite possibly been waving goodbye to their season. If the Cowboys are going to go anywhere in this competition, it will be on the back of the two players who are taking over from the missing co-captains.
4 Cowboys break Allianz hoodoo
The Cowboys didn't just book their place in the preliminary final with a victory as they also ended a seven game hoodoo at the Allianz Stadium.
The difference yesterday being that the Cowboys hung in. In years gone by, the Cowboys would have been out of the game by the 50th minute mark at this venue but this team has a never say die attitude.
5 Stats tell a sorry tale
The game provided plenty of drama however it wasn't the best example of finals footy as both sides kept giving away a number of errors and penalties. The Cowboys were better than the Sharks in other key stats.
The Sharks missed 34 tackles to the Cowboys 15, while they broke the line less and make seven more errors. Sorry Shane Flanagan but if your team cannot compose themselves in a final sudden death match then do not expect your side to progress.
Cronulla needed to pull their heads in yesterday and set themselves up for a victory through finals discipline that was so evidently lacking.
The most damning statistic yesterday was the completion rate with the Cowboys completing at 80% and Cronulla at 60%. No side can expect to win a finals match completing at those levels.
6 Refereeing continues to come into question
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan slammed the officials after his side were knocked out of the finals series.
Flanagan thought that the decision to yellow card Maloney was wrong but, in truth, the Sharks may have got away with a couple of tight calls themselves. He also claimed that Lachlan Coote was five metres offside in the lead up to a Cowboys try, something that replays have shown to be false.
Were the referees perfect yesterday, no! Will it stop soon, no! It is part of the spectacle of sport and yesterday the 50/50 calls probably favoured the Cowboys. However, the big ones were correct and the Sharks ill-discipline and poor execution, rather than the officials, was the reason they lost.
What did you make of yesterday's match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys? Let us know in the comments below.
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