The Sharks ended reigning champions North Queensland's hopes of winning back-to-back premierships in emphatic 32-20 fashion at Allianz Stadium on Friday night to qualify for their first grand final in a unified competition in 38 years.
Sharks dominate their way to the big dance
Just over 12 months since they were sent packing from the NRL Telstra Premiership finals series, following a 39-0 shellacking from the Cowboys, the Sharks are returned the favour in spades. To put the Sharks' first 40 minutes into perspective, they produced over 400 metres more than their opponents and dominated with 65 per cent of possession. Cronulla completed 11 of their first 13 sets where their only slip ups were because of disallowed tries to Andrew Fifita and Chad Townsend in the first 10 minutes. While the Sharks didn't cross the white stripe until midway through the first half, the writing was on the wall early. Their domination was finally converted into points through winger Sosaia Feki in the 22nd minute where they posted a lead they never looked like losing.
Maloney poise puts the Shire in raptures
A 30,000-plus strong Sharks contingent watched on with sheer delight as five-eighth James Maloney weaved his magic. Future immortal Johnathan Thurston could only watch on as Maloney confirmed his place as the best signing of the 2016 season. Not only did he set up halves partner Chad Townsend's four-pointer just before half-time but the New South Wales Origin star managed to score two himself. His first through utter toughness, and his second from a clean intercept and 50 metre run. Maloney will now prepare for his third grand final (at three different clubs – Warriors in 2011, Roosters 2013) in six years.
Cowboys rue shocking first half
Fatigue factor or not for the Cowboys following their last start extra-time thriller against the Broncos, the Sharks dominated because the Cowboys invited them to. North Queensland were restricted to 13 sets in the first 40 and only completed at 62 per cent. The main indicator of the reigning premiers' being dominated was the fact they took 30 minutes to get within 40 metres of the try-line. By game's end they had missed over 50 tackles and made 11 errors, leaving Thurston to lament how "ordinary" they were when discussing his side's 12-point loss post-game.
Chad Townsend's gratifying bounce back
The only Shire born-and-bred player in the Sharks' 17, halfback Townsend was left in tears once the final siren confirmed Cronulla's place in the 2016 decider. Two weeks ago Townsend was unceremoniously hooked by coach Shane Flanagan – a decision he didn't agree with – in the second half of his side's qualifying final win over the Raiders. He wouldn't let that damper his spirits though when he was duly rewarded with a four-pointer just minutes before half-time to help Cronulla post a 14-0 lead. The cherry on top came for Townsend in the biggest game of his career when he put Luke Lewis over to score untouched in the 51st minute.
Coote takes the long way to build confidence
Lachlan Coote's recent run of shockers looked to have made its way to Sydney in the opening half of the Cowboys' eventual loss. It only took two minutes for the fullback to produce his first error – from a Townsend torpedo kick – and he was lucky to inadvertently prevent a Sharks try just seven minutes later. A few ordinary kicks later and Coote was really struggling. He'll take solace from the fact he was able to have a flawless second half, helped by his try early in the second half to give his side a sniff.
Game on. Data off.
Stream every NRL game, including finals, live and data free with a 2016 Footy Pass, exclusive to Telstra mobile.
Watch all the NRL action live on your compatible tablet or mobile device with data-free streaming on your Telstra mobile plan.
For use in Australia only.