Luckless Cowboys plunge further into trouble
IF North Queensland's season hadn't already hit critical, it well and truly has now after they suffered more casualties in their gutsy 26-16 defeat to Cronulla on Saturday night.
The injury-hit Cowboys were gallant in front of 15,539 fans at 1300SMILES Stadium, and kept the Sharks tryless in the second half, but the visitors' four first-half tries proved too much to overcome.
The home side lost fullback Lachlan Coote (ankle) in the lead-up to the match, and their injury woes only grew when John Asiata (hyperextended elbow) and Kalyn Ponga (shoulder) left the field in the second half. Kyle Feldt (leg) was also seen limping late in the game.
Stand-in captain Michael Morgan suffered his second consecutive head knock in as many weeks, but returned to the field after halftime. There were also fears for Jason Taumalolo who entered the sheds midway through the second half, but the wrecking ball forward also returned.
While the boys in the black, white and blue jump back into the top four, the Cowboys remain in eighth spot, and with two games remaining, are in real danger of missing their first finals campaign since 2010.
Off the back of an early penalty, the Sharks gained themselves some valuable field position. But it wasn't to be with a pass from Ricky Leutele to Sosaia Feki bouncing over the sideline.
They didn't have to wait long for another shot and they took their opportunity with Luke Lewis putting returning hooker Jayden Brailey over in the fifth minute.
The Sharks were looking sharp and they soon extended their lead via some classy lead-up play from James Maloney which lead to a Paul Gallen try.
The home side nearly grabbed their first of the night in the 14th minute when Ben Hampton darted out of dummy half, but the bunker ruled he lost possession in a Valentine Holmes tackle.
When Gerard Beale failed to score the Sharks' third of the night, the Cowboys marched down field with Te Maire Martin pouncing on a deft Michael Morgan grubber.
The Cowboys lost Morgan midgame for the second consecutive week when he left the field in the 28th minute after a high tackle from Wade Graham.
After Chad Townsend and Holmes bagged two tries in five minute, the visitors look a 24-6 lead into halftime.
The home side lost both Asiata and Ponga in the first five minutes after the break.
A Maloney penalty goal extended the Sharks lead in the 69th minute.
Late tries to Ethan Lowe and Morgan bridged the gap, but the Sharks belonged to the Sharks.