Sharks five-eighth James Maloney starred against the Cowboys in Round 14.

Sharks v Cowboys: Five key points

A James Maloney kicking masterclass has helped guide the Sharks to a 13-10 win over the Cowboys, their 10th straight victory in 2016. The sides traded five penalty goals in a game that was turned on its head by a piece of Valentine Holmes brilliance 10 minutes before half-time. 

 

 
Perfectly timed spray helps Sharks make it 10 on the trot

Sharks skipper Paul Gallen noticed something wasn't right at the side's captain's run on Sunday.

With nine wins in a row he could have been excused for letting it pass. But that's not how the Sharks of 2016 roll.

Instead of letting his teammates off, Gallen and the experienced head of Michael Ennis ripped in.

The result? A 13-10 win over the side that knocked them out of the 2015 finals series. 

"Yesterday at training I thought it was a bit loose at times, so myself and Mick – particularly at the end – had a little bit of a blow up and I think it worked because tonight the boys really had their heads on and competed hard for 80 minutes," Gallen said after the game. 

"We had a goal to be top four the whole year and we're there. The important thing is to keep our heads down and be here in another 10 or 12 weeks' time."

 
Cowboys lose another thriller

The Cowboys will head into their first bye of the season with nine wins and five losses, but they could easily be unbeaten after 14 rounds.

Last year's premiers are yet to lose at home, and while they have a 2-5 record on the road, their biggest defeat in 2016 has been by four points. 

The Cowboys have twice been beaten by a single try against the Eels and Dragons, lost by a solitary point to the Broncos (in golden point) and the Storm, and on Monday went down by just three. 

Holmes moves clear at the top of the tree

Not content with watching others put their hand up for try of the year honours, Sharks winger Valentine Holmes produced his best effort of 2016 to throw down the challenge to Tim Simona from the Wests Tigers.

With his side down 8-0, Holmes turned defence into attack with a 95-metre interception, making Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote dizzy with several changes of direction on his way to the try line. 

Holmes's extraordinary effort was his 12th try of the season, putting him one clear of Melbourne Storm sensation Suliasi Vunivalu. 

"He likes to put a bit of flash on all of his tries. It was a great try," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said. 

Sharks keep North Queensland's weapons in check

There is no denying the Cowboys possess some of the finest attacking artillery in the competition. Sadly for them, they failed to fire on Monday night.

The Sharks dominated the midfield, running for nearly 500 more metres than their opponents. 

As a result, the spine of Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan, Johnathan Thurston and Jake Granville were all kept quiet. None of them were able to make a line break on the night and all four men finished the game well below their average running metres. 

The grinding affair came as no surprise to Cowboys coach Paul Green. 

"I expect nothing less down here," he said. 

"They're a tough pack of forwards and we expected that sort of game."

 
Jack Bird swoops into Origin calculations 

Cronulla's incredible run in 2016 has seen a number of their stars selected in the NSW Blues side, and on Monday night, centre Jack Bird joined the quartet of Wade Graham, Paul Gallen, James Maloney and Andrew Fifita; albeit as a development player.

The 2015 Rookie of the Year has been in supreme form in his new position on the right edge and NSW captain Paul Gallen believes it's only a matter of time until he makes his Origin debut. 

"I think he's a special player; we all know that," the Sharks skipper said. 

"It's only his second year of first grade and we can see what he can do already. He's a player of the future, there's no doubt about that, and that's why 'Loz' (Blues coach Laurie Daley) has got him in there as a development player. 

"I'm sure it won't be too long until we see him there."