The Sharks had their attack in top gear for the first time in recent memory, Cronulla turning on the afterburners early to simply blow the Cowboys away with a first half display that really flexed their 2008 NRL potential. The Sharks did switch off a little early, but held out the North Queenslanders to win 24-18.
The Sharks set up the victory with a blistering four tries in the opening stanza, capitalising on some sloppy Cowboys defence.
Backing up from Friday night’s Test, Cronulla’s bruise brothers Greg Bird and Paul Gallen were superb, with Gallen grabbing a try and Bird setting up his side’s first.
Gallen, Fraser Anderson, Luke Douglas and Brett Kearney all crossed for the Sharks before the break while Luke Covell slotted four from five for the night.
While the victory consolidated Cronulla’s position in the top four, North Queensland remain second last on the ladder following their sixth loss from nine matches in 2008.
And the Cowboys’ season continues to go from bad to worse, with their Australian representatives struggling to back up after the Test in Sydney.
Carl Webb committed three handling errors while halfback Johnathan Thurston was below his energetic best in the Cowboys’ third straight defeat.
They were not the only ones to blame, with the whole side guilty of lacking intensity in the first half.
The second half deteriorated into a mistake-riddled affair with both sides losing possession and testing the patience of referee Tony Archer in the ruck before the home side sparked a mini-revival.
The Cowboys rallied late in the second half through tries to Webb and Luke O’Donnell but it was too little too late with Cronulla winning their third straight against the Cowboys.
North Queensland’s depth is set to be further tested with five-eighth Travis Burns suffering a shoulder injury in the 44th minute.
Sharks captain Paul Gallen was pleased to get back to club duties after tasting success with Australia against New Zealand.
â€œI struggled a bit,â€ he said. â€œI blew out after about 10-12 minutes in the second half but it was great to come up here and get a win.
â€œI am really happy for the boys. I have been away from them all week. It was great to see how professional they were.â€
Gallen believed the victory would ease the pressure after some tight loses in recent weeks.
â€œThe win puts us back on track. We lost two games we could quite easily could have won, so it is good to get one back,â€ he said.
North Queensland coach Graham Murray said a poor first half cost his side any chance of victory.
â€œWe were happy about our second half but the cruel part of it was our first half boarded on pretty ordinary,â€ Murray said.
â€œI was pretty scathing of the first-half handling. The players know it and we know it as a team.
â€œWe just weren’t in the shooting match at halftime at 22-6. We are giving teams too many points in the first half.â€