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Cronulla Sutherland Sharks 24 v North Queensland Cowboys 22
at Toyota Park
Referees: Gavin Badger
Following a week of turmoil, the Cronulla Sharks have responded with a 24-22 victory over competition front-runners North Queensland Cowboys tonight.
An email campaign from disgruntled fans had coach Stuart Raper fuming during the week. With many supporters calling for his sacking, an angry Raper responded in the media by describing those behind the emails as "idiots".
With a crowd of just over 9,000 on hand, the Toyota Park faithful were treated to a spirited comeback as the Sharks scored 14 unanswered points in the second half.
The Cowboys were first to score when backrower Luke O'Donnell backed up after just five minutes. The Sharks struck back through Phil Bailey in the 14th minute to make it 6-4 in favour of the visitors. Five minutes later forward Lance Thompson burst onto a pass from half back Adam Dykes to put the Sharks in front by 10-6 imidway through the first half.
With five-eighth Johnathan Thurston setting up play, the North Queenslanders then lifted with sharp tries to Rod Jensen in the 34th minute, and another to O'Donnell to take the Cowboys to a 22-10 half time lead.
With Adam Dykes at the helm, the Sharks started the second half in tremendous fashion. A try to Dykes in the 54th minute narrowed the Cowboys lead to six. Dykes then inspired the next try with a fabulous grubber kick for himself before finding Nigel Vagana in support. With 20 minutes to go, the score was locked up at 22-all.
With 15 minutes to go, Winger Luke Covell slotted a penalty goal, putting the Sharks two points in front and setting up a nail-biting finish.
The Cowboys lifted an effort to keep their unbeaten run intact but the Sharks were equal to the task, holding out their more fancied rivals and pulling off what could be the upset of the season.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks: 24
Tries: Phil Bailey, Adam Dykes, Nigel Vagana, Lance Thompson
Goals: Luke Covell 4/5
North Queensland Cowboys: 22
Tries: Rod Jensen, Luke O'Donnell(2), Matt Sing
Goals: Johnathan Thurston 3/4
By the Clock:
Beaut night at Toyota Park.
Calm conditions and no real wind. But a poor crowd just before kickoff.
The Sharks desperate for a win and take on competition leaders the Cowboys.
5 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys
O'Donnell scores. The Cowboys punching 95m upfield following an intercept from Ashley Graham. Conversion from Johnathan Thurston.
14 min: TRY Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
Phil Bailey crashes over after pushing past some ordinary defence. Follows video ref scrutiny over the put down. Luke Covell unable to convert.
19 min: TRY Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
Lance Thompson on the burst from an Adam Dykes pass, and gets past two defenders to score. Covell converts from right in front.
23 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys
Matt Sing scores after the Cowboys get around the defence and have the numbers. Beautifully engineered by Thurston and then Sing who still had plenty of work to do out wide. Thurston conversion attempt just misses.
28 min: NEWS Sharks looking good in attack. A poor play-the-ball from Thompson sees them lose possession and a good chance goes begging. But the home side are applying the bulk of the pressure.
34 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys
Rod Jensen scores for the visitors. Sharks unable to get a kick away on the last tackle of the previous set and Cowboys capitalise. Thurston converts.
37 min: TRY North Queensland Cowboys
O'Donnell gets a double after Thurston makes a 50m break with Matt Bowen in support. In the next play O'Donnell scores as the defence is trying to regroup. Conversion from Thurston successful.
Half time: Cowboys 22-10
The Cowboys and Jonnathan Thurston have stamped their authority on the match in the backend of the first half.
The Sharks looked good up until 10 minutes ago with Dykes and Thompson the best of the home side. But they were simply unable to keep focussed as the Cowboys stepped up a gear.
Still plenty in this match for the Sharks but the Cowboys' converted try just before the break might have been the killer.
Second half underway, Sharks defending the southern end...
NEWS - Sharks winger Darren Albert noticeably playing more at fullback with David Simmons on the right wing.
48 min: NEWS Great start to the second half from the Sharks. Now getting repeat sets at the Cowboys line.
52 min: NEWS Sharks get another opportunity when Albert does a terrific job in getting the ball back into the field of play. Then Tevita Latu makes a bust. But they follow it up with handling errors and the Cowboys are off the hook.
54 min: TRY Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
Adam Dykes scores next to the posts after Sharks get a penalty and then a roll on. Covell adds the extras.
61 min: TRY Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
Nigel Vagana scores a great try with a Dykes grubber kick setting up play beautifully. Covell converts 10m from the posts and its all locked up!
65 min: PENALTY GOAL Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
From about 30m out and right in front, Covell puts the Sharks in front.
68 min: NEWS Cowboys now getting some possession and a repeat set at the Sharks line.
70 min: NEWS Sharks' line holds firm and Covell returns the ball with a good run. Dykes putting in a top class kick at the end of the set.
73 min: NEWS Sharks still on the attack as Brett Kelly gets his first touch of the ball in first grade. Paul Gallen loses the ball and the Cowboys now counter-attack.
77 min: NEWS Aaron Payne now lifting for the Cowboys but the Sharks hold firm and have the ball with just three minutes remaining.
78 min: NEWS Tremendous attacking raid from the Cowboys ends with a kick going dead.
Full time: Sharks 24-22
Sharks put together a great second half to deliver the upset of the year. The Cowboys suffering their first loss of 2006.
Following a week of turmoil and harsh criticism from their fans, the Sharks players and coach Stuart Raper have responded in the best possible way, on the football field.
Top notch effort from Sharks half Adam Dykes who gets our man of the match. Dykes was the difference in the sides and was able to outshine Thurston who was one of the Cowboys' best. Cowboys backrower Luke O'Donnell made a lot of strong runs, backed up, and was rewarded with two tries. Sharks Winger and part time fullback Darren Albert made some nice breaks and supported his forwards well.
Leagueunlimited.com players of the match:
3 - Adam Dykes (Sharks)
2 - Luke O'Donnell (Cowboys)
1 - Darren Albert (Sharks)