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Cronulla consolidated their place in the top four tonight with a vital win against the Cowboys in Townsville, despite a late show from North Queensland.
The damage was done in the first half with the boys from the Shire keen to bounce back from two substandard performances in recent weeks where both the Raiders and Broncos dominated them from the outset.
Jayden Brailey got the scoring started for the Sharks in the fifth minute, near enough the posts for James Maloney to easily convert. The visitors appeared to be racing the clock when Paul Gallen crossed for the second serving of points after eleven minutes.
Both sides were denied by the Bunker in the ten minutes that followed, before Cowboys' half Te Maire Martin won the race to the ball off a clever kick which saw the hosts finally grace the scoreboard.
Just when it looked like the Townsville faithful had something to cheer about, Chad Townsend got in on the action for Cronulla, a 32nd minute try for the halfback backed up by winger Valentine Holmes three minutes before the break, and suddenly the visitors were 18 points clear going into halftime.
The scoreboard attendant was afforded a nap for the first 25 minutes of the second half with neither side able to post points - a 69th minute penalty goal to James Maloney putting the result beyond any reasonable doubt before a brace of late tries for the Cowboys through Michalel Morgan and Ethan Lowe made things respectable and sent the home fans away with a glimmer of hope.
Bad appears to be going to worse with the Cowboys losing John Asiata to a significant arm injury, on top of an already huge injury toll. They next lace up against Wests Tigers on Friday night before hosting Brisbane the Thursday after to close out season 2017 - all while trying to desperately cling to a finals berth.
Cronulla aren't in anywhere near such trouble but still need some strong performances to close out the season and finish top four, the first challenge at home against the Roosters next Saturday before they get the chance to spoil "old boys day" in Newcastle in Round 26.
North Queensland Cowboys 16 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 26
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
Halftime Score: North Queensland Cowboys 6 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 24
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - James Maloney
2 points - Paul Gallen
1 points - Valentine Holmes
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS (16)
Tries: Te Maire Martin, Ethan Lowe, Michael Morgan
Conversions: Ethan Lowe (2/2)
CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS (26)
Tries: Jayden Brailey, Paul Gallen, Chad Townsend, Valentine Holmes
Conversions: James Maloney (4/4)
Penalty Goals: James Maloney (1/1)