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Sharks Jump: Cronulla leap up ladder with statement win in North Queensland

Cronulla have jumped over Melbourne and moved level with North Queensland after defeating the Cowboys 26-16 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

They now sit joint second in the NRL ladder, behind only the Panthers, while trailing North Queensland on points difference.

It completes a perfect Origin period for the Sharks, who have defeated two of the three teams above them in that period: after last week’s demolition of Melbourne and this win in Townsville, they must now complete the set with a visit to Penrith next week.

Two first half tries from Jesse Ramien kicked started their evening and offered a lead that they would never relinquish, though North Queensland gave as good as they got late into the second half.

It might have been very different: the Cowboys thought they had taken the lead for the first time through Jason Taumalolo, but after the bunker decided otherwise, Cronulla kicked back into gear and eased further away.

The Sharks had the benefit of missing only one player from Origin, with Siosifa Talakai nursing a shoulder complaint picked up on Wednesday night, and their great cohesion ultimately showed.

The same could not be said for the hosts. They missed the organisational capacity of Tom Dearden, as well as the strike of Jeremiah Nanai and Tom Gilbert. Had those three backed up, this might well have gone the other way.

Statistically speaking, there was very little between the sides. Both sides completed well in the first half and terribly in the second, and while the Cowboys edged the possession and field position, it was Cronulla who looked more cohesive in attack.

Cronulla took a stranglehold early in the game, dominating possession and field position, and might have been upset at going to the break just two points to the good.

The Sharks’ strong start began in what is fast becoming trademark fashion: a quick shift to to the wing, with Ramien foregoing the pass to Sione Katoa to score himself.

The pressure kept up, with the Cowboys barely able to get the football, but Cronulla were unable to add to their lead.

When North Queensland did gain possession, they were threatening. Only a diving late tackle from Connor Tracey was able to halt Scott Drinkwater.

With the line preserved, the visitors struck again. It was Ramien for a second time, this one a twist over the line through Cowboys defence that might have been a little stronger.

The hosts then sprung into life. Luciano Leilua was increasingly prominent on the right edge and provided the quick pass that released Kyle Feldt to get them on the board.

Cronulla added more points via a penalty goal, but were punished themselves for consistently slowing the game down with a binning for Blayke Brailey, who was the fall guy after a series of infringements.  

With time running out on the half, the Cowboys took advantage though Chad Townsend, who caught the defence static and sent Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in for a simple score.

The early momentum in the second half was all with the Cowboys, though they could not make anything of it. When a hole opened up for Connolly Lemuelu, he coughed up the footy under little pressure.

They then got over, with Jason Taumalolo bustling through several tacklers, only for the bunker to wipe off the try for a questionable obstruction.

Having gone so close, the Cowboys then imploded. With Cronulla meandering their way to the end of a set, Ben Hampton made a meal of a Hynes kick and presented Teig Wilson with the easiest of putdowns.

Cronulla led by eight going into the final quarter hour, but were not helping themselves either. Wilton made an error on the first set after points and the Sharks were forced to scramble hard.

Hynes then sent a kick out on the full and invited North Queensland back in, only for more errors to come and give the guests a reprieve.

The hammer blow would follow. Katoa took a seemingly benign hit up in his own half, but isolated Drinkwater in the line and burst through, running the length to put the game beyond doubt.

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