The North Queensland Cowboys have held on to defeat the Cronulla Sharks 20-14 in Johnathan Thurston’s 300th NRL game. Not only was JT playing his 300th game, he also surpassed North Queensland legend Matt Bowen as the most capped Cowboy in history.
Shaking his head at the end of the game, no one will be tougher on JT than himself following a game in which he wasn’t quite up to scratch as the greatest half in the league. Thurston kicked just 2 from 5 goals, one of those misses came in the final few minutes of the game leaving the Sharks within striking distance.
Te Maire Martin, who started in place of the injured Michael Morgan (Abdominal strain) was sent over the line from a picture-perfect JT pass early in the game. However, the referee ruled no try as it was shown Martin had lost control of the ball in the act of scoring.
While JT showed some of his typical class, there were clear moments of rust and fatigue. During the last 5 minutes a Thurston bomb skied into the air, only to drop out on the full gifting Cronulla an opportunity. He made quick work of making up for the error when he put through a pin-point grubber for Gavin Cooper to snatch a try and the victory.
The Sharks were their own worst enemy in this one with just a 60% completion rate and amassing 38 missed tackles. On top of that, Cronulla only managed to defuse 55% of the Cowboys attacking kicks, struggling with the Thurston bombs swirling in the wind as well as Kyle Feldt’s masterful kickoffs.
Not helping their issues, Cronulla had their share of injuries throughout the game. NSW Blues Representative Wade Graham left the field in the first quarter for an HIA after getting taken high by Te Maire Martin. The second half saw the debutant winger Sione Katoa leave the field with a laceration in his mouth and suspected broken jaw.
It was the Cowboys usual game breakers who caused havoc for the Cronulla defence. Jason Taumalolo ran for over 180 meters while breaking 6 tackles, meanwhile Coen Hess ran for 103 with 3 tackle busts and scored a try with just his second touch of the ball.
The Cowboys pack showed they will be tough to deal with this season with the return of Matt Scott (95 meters, 15 tackles) from an ACL injury and the addition of NSW Blues hopeful, Jordan McLean, who showed his ability to play the ball in his Cowboys debut, creating an opportunity for Te Maire Martin off a slick short-ball in the early stages. Scott Bolton will also provide a lift off the bench as he did this game with a 110 running meter effort.
A sloppy affair, the errors were split at 15 apiece. Both teams will need to shake the rust for round 2. Cronulla takes on the much-improved looking St George Illawarra Dragons, while North Queensland will be in for another battle (and golden point?) with their Queensland rivals in Brisbane.
North Queensland Cowboys: 20 (Justin O’Neill, Coen Hess, Kyle Feldt, Gavin Cooper tries; Johnathan Thurston 2 goals) def. Cronulla Sharks: 14 (Josh Dugan, James Segyaro tries; Chad Townsend 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville. Crowd: 15,900.