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The North Queensland Cowboys have been left to count the heavy cost of a solid victory tonight at Dairy Farmers Stadium, losing several players to injury in their 24-4 defeat of Cronulla in front of 17,283 of the Townsville faithful.
The match was the first in 2009 to go to the halftime break at 0-all, neither team able to break the solid defence on display from their opposition as the first forty wore on. The Cowboys however did lose both Luke O'Donnell (knee) and Aaron Payne (chest/pectoral) in the first stanza, reducing their stocks to just 15 players in the first half.
The Cowboys came out all guns blazing in the second half, John Williams scoring within minutes of the resumption of play to finally register some points. Both teams continued to grind it out after Williams' try, and while Thurston missed the conversion, he capitalised with a penalty goal a few minutes later. Williams however had struggled after the try, limping down the tunnel moments after Thurston's missed conversion.
It wasn't until the 63rd minute when Matty Bowen scored off a brilliant Scott Bolton pass that the Cowboys really started to play a more open style of football, and just three minutes later, Bowen was in again after Rovelli broke through some weak midfield defence from the Sharks and sent the flying fullback on his way.
The Sharks returned fire in the final ten minutes, but a try to Cowboys centre Ty Williams off a superb cut-out ball by Grant Rovelli put paid to an unlikely comeback attempt by the visitors.
While the first half was a battle of defences, Johnathan Thurston and Grant Rovelli took control of the battle in the second forty minutes and despite being down on troops, the Cowboys came home with far more energy. Both sides enjoy the bye next week, an added boost for the Cowboys after tonights win, as it keeps them in touch with the competition leaders.
Match Details North Queensland Cowboys 24 def Cronulla Sharks 4 Round 17 - Saturday July 4th, 2009 07:30pm Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville Referee: Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor Sideline Officials: David Abood & Gavin Atkins Video Referee: Phil Cooley Crowd: 17,283 Halftime: 0-all
LeagueUnlimited.com Player of the Match 3 Points: Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys) 2 Points: Matt Bowen (Cowboys) 1 Point: Grant Rovelli (Cowboys)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary Talk about the game as it happens - Cowboys v Sharks forum discussion - click here!
Dairy Farmers Stadium the venue tonight and both teams coming off last-start losses as the Cronulla Sharks visit Townsville to face the North Queensland Cowboys.
One change for the home side, Southern comes in to the starting side, Webb will be on the bench to start. Cronulla lose Mitch Brown from the centre pairing, Ben Pomeroy will start. Blake Green moves to five-eighth, Reece Williams then shifts to lock, with Atelea Vea dropping out.
COWBOYS: 1. Matthew Bowen 2. Michael Bani 3. Ty Williams 4. Willie Tonga 5. John Williams 6. Grant Rovelli 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Shane Tronc 9. Aaron Payne 10. Matt Scott 15. Steve Southern 12. Scott Bolton 13. Luke O'Donnell Interchange: 11. Carl Webb 14. Antonio Kaufusi 16. James Tamou 17. Steve Rapira SHARKS: 1. Nathan Stapleton 2. Blake Ferguson 3. Matthew Wright 16. Ben Pomeroy 5. Luke Covell 21. Blake Green 7. Scott Porter 8. Kade Snowden 9. Corey Hughes 10. Luke Douglas 11. Grant Millington 12. Anthony Tupou 6. Reece Williams Interchange: 14. Bryan Norrie 15. Johnny Mannah 17. Terence Seu Seu 18. Jack Afamasaga
Teams on the field, plenty of young blokes peeling off the field, just about ready.
Kickoff: We're underway at Dairy Farmers!
1 min: Knock-on from the Sharks in the second tackle. Cowboys scrum, they'll have a shot. Forward pass toward the end of the set though, Sharks out of trouble.
4 min: Anthony Tupou spills it on halfway and it's the Cowboys ball now.
8 min: Almost ten minutes down so far and Cronulla have struggled to make sufficient in-roads til now. A fifth tackle grubber from Matthew Wright forces the error from Michael Bani and now Cronulla's first chance on the Cowboys line will come.
11 min: A stray pass on the last from the Sharks is knocked on, and it goes straight into Matt Bowen's arms. He races 20 metres up-field to be just short of halfway.
13 min: PENALTY Sharks - an inside the ten penalty against the Cowboys allows the visitors out of their own half.
15 min: Corey Hughes grubbers into the in-goal on the last and Matty Bowen has to run it dead. Drop-out now and repeat sets for the Sharks.
16 min: Scott Porter darts his way to the corner to score but it's called back, a knock-on gives the Cowboys a scrum on their own 10m line.
INJURY UPDATE - Aaron Payne's already gone off, now Luke O'Donnell's done his knee again, in his 150th game. Tragic stuff for the Cowboys as he's carted off by two trainers. Gut-wrenching scenes at Dairy Farmers.
20 min: Michael Bani under pressure from a Sharks grubber again, this time close to the line and three Sharks manage to keep him in-goal and force the line drop-out... just.
22 min: Anthony Tupou comes up with an error 10m out, they're off the hook again the Cowboys.
25 min: Comedy of errors here, Ty Williams has given John Williams a bit of shielding in taking a bomb. John takes the bomb fine by Ben Pomeroy coming through has pushed Ty into him, John Williams then grounding the ball in-goal. Drop out, despite the howls of protest from the Townsville crowd.
INJURY UPDATE: Luke O'Donnell (Cowboys) - medial ligament Grade one. Terrence Seu Seu (Sharks) and Grant Millington (Sharks) both down in back-play, both coming off the field. Players dropping like flies so far. Still no points scored.
28 min: VIDEO REFEREE - Possible Sharks try - Ferguson's gone over in the corner, checking obstruction, grounding and the corner post. NO TRY. Ferguson has contacted the corner post in touching the ball down.
32 min: Tensions continuing to boil between the referees and the Cowboys. Carl Webb in strife for backchat, Thurston gets another serve from Cummins too. PENALTY Sharks - surely they've gotta score here... NO! The ball's loose, the Cowboys will work it out from the deep.
34 min: PENALTY Cowboys - and miracles do happen. Sharks interchange player Jack Afamasaga never straightened at marker and now the boys from the North will have a big chance to score with five to go before halftime.
36 min: Thurston puts it behind the line with a grubber on the last, Ty Williams wasn't quick enough as the Sharks players left it go dead. Back to the 20m for a restart. Still no score at Dairy Farmers!
38 min: Luke Douglas nails Johnathan Thurston, he gets up clutching his shoulder but he looks okay now. Ty Williams is bundled into touch about 40m from the Sharks line. Scrum to the visitors with about 90 seconds remaining.
39 min: PENALTY Cowboys as a comedy of errors unravels on their own line. A remarkable first half is desinted to finish with no points!
HALFTIME: North Queensland Cowboys 0 Cronulla Sharks 0 One of the best halves of footy not to feature any points you'll ever see. Both teams might be lacking somewhat in attacking options but the defence from both sides has been premiership-quality stuff. Injuries are the big talking point - we won't see Luke O'Donnell again tonight and Aaron Payne is just as unlikely.
Second half has begun, the Cowboys hitting it up first.
43 min: VIDEO REFEREE - Possible Cowboys try. John Williams looks to have scored in the corner, just checking the grounding. He's been injured in the tackle too. Decision pending...
44 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys And hallelujah, we have points! Thurston sends a long cut-out pass to John Williams who uses his pace to get over inside the corner post. He is hobbling back to his position, he's trying to run the injury out, doesn't look good though. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston unsuccessful. North Queensland Cowboys 4-0
45 min: Matt Scott comes on to replace John Williams. BIG break from Watts for the Cowboys but he passes it to Thurston who is bundled over. The home side heavy on the attack now.
46 min: PENALTY Cowboys - a big bomb goes up to Covell's wing but he's dropped it and Tupou collects it... in front of Covell. Offside. Meanwhile, John Williams limps up the tunnel to the Cowboys' dressing room, which resembles more of a casualty ward at the moment.
53 min: The Sharks kickers really testing the Cowboys backline with some high balls, this time Michael Bani takes the ball with ease.
54 min: PENALTY GOAL North Queensland Cowboys Some great teamwork from Thurston and Bowen brings the Cowboys to 20m out from the line, an offside penalty is awarded. The home side elects for the two, which Thurston has no trouble with. North Queensland Cowboys 6-0
58 min: Matthew Wright spills it upon receiving the ball out wide with the tryline in his sight. Cowboys with an attacking chance now. They could almost put the game away with twenty left here...
62 min: PENALTY Cowboys - holding down in the play-the-ball costs the Sharks, the hosts now work it up the park into the Sharks' half.
64 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys The Cowboys work it through the hands on the fourth tackle and Bolton hands Bowen a fantastic ball inside. Little Matty Bowen scores and the Cowboys are right in the box seat now. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 12-0
67 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Rovelli goes straight through some feeble Sharks defence, then finds Matty Bowen who grabs a quick double. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 18-0
68 min: PENALTY Sharks - Tonga penalised for not playing the ball when held. Sharks with a chance to post some points here.
69 min: VIDEO REFEREE - Possible Sharks try. Matthew Wright trots to the line, checking the grounding inside the corner post...
70 min: TRY Cronulla Sharks - Benefit of the Doubt Cronulla on the board through Matthew Wright, the Sharks spread the ball to the left and Blake Green links up with Wright who goes slowly to the corner and gets it down at what could only be called simulatenous contact with the corner post. Conversion attempt by Luke Covell unsuccessful. North Queensland Cowboys 18-4
71 min: Some spirited defence from the Cowboys thwarts a Sharks backline movement, Blake Ferguson forced into touch on halfway.
73 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys Thurston sets up a fantastic try with a great pass to Ty Williams and the Cowboys continue to show their professionalism. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful. North Queensland Cowboys 24-4
76 min: PENALTY Sharks - the visitors will get another chance for points here.
78 min: PENALTY Sharks - another penalty gives Sharks good field position. They're not making much impact in attack.
79 min: VIDEO REFEREE - Possible Sharks try Blake Green looks to have beaten all comers to the ball, has he grounded it? NO TRY, couldn't get it down properly.
FULLTIME: North Queensland Cowboys 24 Cronulla Sharks 4 A solid win under trying circumstances for the boys from Townsville, grinding out the two points despite the loss of several players to injury throughout the night. The Sharks defence held well for the first hour or so, but as soon as the Thurston & Bowen show kicked into gear, it was shut-the-gates time.