Sharks v Cowboys: Five key points
Inconsistency comes back to haunt Cronulla with the Cowboys springing a 15-14 upset in extra time to end the premiership defence of the Sharks at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
Sharks' inconsistency comes back to bite
Cronulla were confident heading into Sunday's clash they could feature in the grand final despite finishing the regular season in fifth position, but perhaps after racing out to an early 8-0 scoreline complacency began to creep in.
Winning back-to-back premierships is no easy feat and Sunday's stunning result was in the end a fair reflection of Cronulla's season to date.
Lacklustre, inconsistent, out of character… there are all types of words that coach Shane Flanagan has used throughout the season, but the Sharks were again their own worst enemies against North Queensland.
A 60 per cent completion rate crippled with ill discipline is a recipe for disaster in any game, let alone the finals. And despite their defence a strong point throughout the season, Flanagan's men have a lot to work on in the new year.
Taumalolo stars as Cowboys defy the odds
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
The Cowboys needed a spark late in the second half and the other "JT" provided the ammunition. Jason Taumalolo's four-pointer in the 63rd minute was a true reflection of the courage of Paul Green's men never-say-die attitude and ultimately their season to date.
No one gave them a chance. Even the club's most diehard fans would have had their doubts heading into the clash.
No Johnathan Thurston, no Matt Scott and a five-eighth in Te Maire Martin on one leg.
But true to their gritty style and change of structure since losing Thurston during the Origin period, the Cowboys continued to hang in there and sometimes that is all that you need.
Maloney sin bin swings the momentum
North Queensland were resilient in defence in the first half and were rewarded 15 seconds from the break with Sharks five-eighth James Maloney sent to the sin bin for a professional foul.
Maloney was penalised for holding back Cowboys back-rower Ethan Lowe in a try-scoring opportunity after teammate Michael Morgan placed a deft kick through on the stroke of half-time.
The ill discipline of Maloney has been spoken about throughout the season with the Australian international having conceded the most penalties of any player in the NRL this season with 35 heading into the clash.
North Queensland could only manage one four-pointer with Maloney off the paddock but there was no denying it enabled the Cowboys to stay within reach before fighting back in the end.
Lack of finals quality despite finish
While both these teams had claimed premiership in recent years you could tell why neither had finished inside the top four this season, with a lack of polish in attack from both outfits.
While there is no denying the final 10 minutes and extra time were a highlight, it was tough pickings for the opening 70 minutes of the game with both sides failing to build any momentum.
Both sides completed at less than 75 percent with a total 13 errors in the first 40 minutes – including an ordinary 64 per cent from Shane Flanagan's men.
Cronulla needed to improve after the break but instead went backwards with errors from the usually consistent Valentine Holmes and skipper Paul Gallen in pivotal moments proving costly in the end.
In contrast, North Queensland respected the pill far more to improve to an 80 per cent completion rate for the afternoon.
Allianz Stadium curse comes to an end
Hoodoo? What hoodoo?
The dreaded trip to Allianz Stadium has finally become a reason to celebrate for the Cowboys, who after seven years of failed attempts at the venue finally ended their drought.
The win was their seventh in 24 outings since 1995, and first against the Sharks in Sydney in finals history.