A few moments of Shaun Johnson brilliance have helped the Sharks overcome a plucky North Queensland outfit at PointsBet Stadium on Thursday night to end their five-game losing run.
The Sharks struggled badly to turn attacking chances into points and the Cowboys looked to be on the home stretch when they went 14-4 up shortly after half-time but with winger Kyle Feldt lost to an HIA in the first half and two back-rowers playing in the centres they were run down late.
Johnson set up two tries and broke the line once while there were promising signs from rookie Billy Magoulias – the sixth debutant for Cronulla in 2019 – while veterans Paul Gallen and Josh Dugan put in big stints with 236 and 206 metres respectively.
Match: Sharks v Cowboys
Round 19 -
Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Sydney
The Cowboys deserve praise for their resilient defence but put too much pressure on that defence with errors in their own half and struggled to apply sustained pressure.
The Sharks completely dominated the first 40 everywhere but the scoreboard, enjoying a mountain of possession on the Cowboys line but struggling to turn that into points.
The half was book-ended by Cowboys tries which came on the back of home side errors.
A Dugan error in a tackle set the scene for Scott Drinkwater to slice through the Sharks' left edge in just the fourth minute and a Braden Hamlin-Uele drop in the set after Cronulla finally got on the board allowed Matt Scott to pivot out of a tackle and plant the ball seconds before half-time.
In between, Cronulla spent most of the half in North Queensland territory and bombed a few clear-cut scoring chances.
Mulitalo gets over for his first NRL try
A Johnson line break set up a try but a supporting Josh Morris failed to pass to Sosaia Feki and the winger was again left clutching at air later in the half when Dugan made a break but took the tackle.
Johnson finally laid on his side's first points in the 37th minute with a glorious cut-out ball to Ronaldo Mulitalo.
The Cowboys stretched their lead early in the second half when Francis Molo touched down on a deflected Jake Granville grubber.
The Sharks enjoyed another sustained period of dominance in terms of field position and continued to bomb half-chances as the Cowboys desperately kept their line intact, with Mulitalo bundled into touch and Johnson's cut-out to an unmarked Feki ruled forward.
The pressure finally told after a Cowboys error near their own line with a piece of Johnson brilliance setting up a Dugan try to close the gap to 14-10 with 15 to play.
With the undermanned Cowboys flagging, the Sharks went the length off the next set and Bronson Xerri ran through some ragged defence to earn the home side the lead for the first time in the 69th minute.
The Cowboys struggled to get out of their end, in part due to some untimely errors, as the Sharks held on for a morale-boosting win that keeps them in the finals hunt.
Drinkwater opens the scoring