Cowboys 'missed Thurston'
Paul Green did not want to come to terms with it after the game, but the case of the stolen Cowboys victory is about as open-and-shut as they get.
When asked whether his boys missed Johnathan Thurston's presence against the Sharks, the irked North Queensland coach replied: "It doesn't matter. He didn't play; it's not worth talking about."
But the frantic, out-of-sync Cowboys of the second half were clearly crying out for their No. 7 to come running off the bench, pull on a jersey and save the day once more.
It was a good test of character for a side that has, in the past, been said to have had nothing without their star player.
With earlier rounds featuring heroics from those not of the initials 'JT', it was believed that this year the Cowboys did indeed have multiple pieces that don't necessarily need Thurston to be successful.
If Saturday is anything to go by, those claims are now looking shaky.
Still up by two converted tries, the Cowboys' boat was rocked by Cronulla's first try and tensions escalated from there, with centre Kane Linnett admitting after the game that their chief playmaker's composure was sorely missed.
"Yeah [we missed Thurston's composure] probably towards the end. He comes up with some of the big plays and the boys jump on the back of that," Linnett said.
"It's Cronulla, they are always going to come back. Probably scoring after half-time, they got their tails up and it was tough to change momentum.
"We were definitely talking behind the posts, we were saying 'next job' and that. There was plenty of chat behind the posts but once we got back down there they got a roll on and it was hard to stop with the penalties that they got."
With four tries in 25 minutes, that inability to stop momentum was evident.
The enigmatic Sharks had their mojo back and were carving up the middle with strong runs from Sam Tagataese and the Fifita brothers, but the Cowboys did themselves no favours on the other end of the park.
"We had a 50 per cent completion rate of 'good ball' sets in the second half so we just weren't getting to the end of our sets," Green said.
"One minute we're attacking the line and the next we're back defending our line so you just don’t get any ascendency or control. We never really had any control in that second half."
Added co-captain Matt Scott: "They got a roll on through the ruck and it eventually ended in points. They have a few guys who are pretty hard to stop close to the line. It's disappointing."
In positive signs for the club, both NRL debutant Patrick Kaufusi and fringe hooker Cameron King had solid games as the Cowboys travel to Wollongong to face the Dragons next Saturday night minus their State of Origin talent, including 'JT'.