Holmes special inspires Sharks win
For the second time in the space of seven days the right boot of James Maloney has propelled the Cronulla Sharks to a heart stopping win in Monday night football.
The NSW Blues' No.6 landed a 74th minute field goal to break the 10-all deadlock before slotting his third penalty goal of the night two minutes later to hand the Sharks their 10th straight victory of the season with a pulsating 13-10 win over the Cowboys.
It was billed as one of the games of the season and the two teams didn't disappoint, putting on a contest that wouldn't look out of place in early October.
It might have been cold in the stands but the action was fiery on the field with both teams providing the 13,119 strong crowd at Southern Cross Group Stadium with an Origin-like atmosphere on Monday night.
There were stray boots, alleged elbows and worryingly for New South Wales a possible shoulder charge by James Tamou and a high tackle by newly named NSW player Wade Graham on Maroons star Johnathan Thurston.
The Sharks ended North Queensland's 11 game winning streak last year and for large parts of Monday night it looked like the 2015 premiers would return serve in Sydney's Shire.
In a game played with unrivalled ferocity it was somewhat surprising that the game's opening try came through some flimsy defence with Antonio Winterstein strolling through off a Lachlan Coote pass.
A Thurston penalty goal in the 27th minute pushed the lead out to eight points and it looked as if the Cowboys would add to that when Gerard Beale was forced into touch 10 metres out from his own line.
Instead, what should have been an attacking scrum turned the game on its head in favour of the home side.
Cowboys five-eighth Michael Morgan looked to have created a three on two, but instead of going through the hands, he went for the long pass.
Enter Valentine Holmes. There might not be a more lethal player in the NRL in open play than the Sharks winger, and when he saw the long ball coming his way he knew what to do.
Holmes pounced, intercepting the ball at the perfect time before setting off downfield. Lachlan Coote appeared to have him covered, but he was very much mistaken with the Sharks speedster turning him inside out twice before putting on the afterburners and scorching the length of the field for one of the tries of the year.
A Maloney penalty goal from the very next set levelled the scores at 8-8 and that's how the frantic first half would end.
The Sharks' sharpshooter had the chance to give his side the lead 15 minutes into the second stanza but missed a shot he'd normally nail.
The Cowboys weren't so lucky 60 seconds later as Maloney lined up a penalty goal from the other side of the field and this time piloted it between the sticks.
The lead didn't last long however as Thurston recovered from the Graham tackle to slot his second penalty goal of the night to once again level the scores with 15 minutes remaining.
Locked at 10, the visitors went agonisingly close to scoring from a questionable knock on ruling against Ben Barba, only for rival Origin props Matt Scott and James Tamou to be denied by the bunker from back-to-back play the balls.
The Sharks somehow escaped again when a monstrous break from powerhouse lock Jason Taumalolo went unrewarded when Morgan dropped it close to the line.
Those missed opportunities would prove costly as Maloney nailed the field goal from the next set before he iced the game with his third penalty goal.
Sharks 13 (Valentine Holmes try; James Maloney 4 goals, Maloney field goal) defeated Cowboys 10 (Antonio Winterstein try; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals) at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Half-time: 8-8. Crowd: 13,119.