Wednesday 24 January 2018 / 02:38 PM


Another astonishing chapter was written in North Queensland’s gallant 2017 campaign as they eliminated defending premiers Cronulla 15-14 in extra-time.

The injury-stricken Cowboys conceded the first try – a controversial one to Chad Townsend – in just the third minute and trailed 14-6 after Jack Bird scored in the 56th minute, but Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo carried the eighth-placed side to one of the great backs-to-the-wall finals victories.

The Sharks underachieved by leading only 8-2 at halftime despite dominating territory and possession, while James Maloney’s sin-binning just before the break aided the Cowboys in posting their first try through Kyle Feldt in the 49th minute.

Bird’s try appeared to knock the wind out of the Cowboys’ sails, but a powerful four-pointer to Jason Taumalolo in the 63rd minute proved a major turning point. The underdogs benefitted from a 50-50 penalty call with three minutes left, allowing Ethan Lowe to level the scores from handy position.

The Sharks bungled field goal opportunities before and after the fulltime hooter, and Morgan put the Cowboys in front for the first time just before the change of ends in extra-time. The Cowboys kept their cool to close out yet another thriller in an incredible week one of finals footy.

North Queensland Cowboys 15 (Kyle Feldt, Jason Taumalolo tries; Ethan Lowe 3 goals; Michael Morgan field goal) defeated Cronulla 14 (Chad Townsend, Jack Bird tries; James Maloney 3 goals) at Allianz Stadium. 

Mighty Morgan

If 2017 has been a window into the Cowboys’ not-too-distant future without Johnathan Thurston, the club appears to be in good hands with Michael Morgan at the helm.

The Queensland Origin utility has grown into the linchpin role as the season’s worn on under exceedingly difficult circumstances, and he was magnificent inspiring his teammates to a miracle, typifying the team’s super-gutsy performance. Deserved to be the match-winner.

JT: Just Terrifying

Jason Taumalolo challenged Morgan for best-on-ground honours with a trademark powerhouse performance that was breath-taking in its intensity and stamina.

When he scored his game-swinging try, the Kiwi Test lock had tallied 103 minutes; when the book closed on a remarkable match 27 minutes later, he had a mammoth 256 metres to his name.

The best forward in the world – and a massive handful for Parramatta next week.

Sharks’ big guns blow it in the clutch

Cronulla had multiple chances in the frantic final stages, but their usual go-to guys let them down.

Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis made handling errors inside North Queensland’s 20-metre zone, Valentine Holmes’ kick-return fumble gave Morgan his chance to the Cowboys’ to the front, and Andrew Fifita’s ill-fated sideways run and offload robbed the Sharks of one last opportunity to keep the extra-time party going and their title defence alive.

In many ways, the 17-10 error count against the Sharks told the story of the match.

Cowboys’ curse revived as Bunker comes under fire

The corresponding elimination showdown between these same clubs in 2013 was one of the most controversial finals of the modern era, highlighted by Cronulla’s seven-tackle try.

It took only two minutes for North Queensland to find itself on the wrong end of a super-tight Bunker call on Sunday, with the man in the box contentiously ruling Antonio Winterstein didn’t force the ball in the in-goal after being barrelled back behind his own line by the Sharks’ defence.

Chad Townsend’s dubious four-pointer would be the only try of the first half as the Bunker came under white-hot scrutiny for the second time in less than 24 hours.

Maloney madness

James Maloney’s famed ill-discipline – conceding more penalties than any other player in 2017 – reared its head at a crucial juncture, sin-binned for foolishly taking out a Cowboys chaser near his own line seconds out from halftime.

As Parramatta did when Billy Slater had an impromptu break on Saturday, the Cowboys cashed in while the Sharks a man short with Kyle Feldt crossing for their first try off a superb Michael Morgan pass.

Brailey proves he belongs

Cronulla’s rookie rake Jayden Brailey continued the week one trend of finals debutants starring, arguably the Sharks’ best in a heartbreaking loss. Brailey made 47 tackles, a line-break and a one-on-one steal in a super all-round display.

Inconsolable post-game, the 21-year-old shapes as the game’s next great No.9 and will get plenty more opportunities on the big stage.

What a weekend

The first week of 2017 finals will go down as one of the greatest in premiership history, with all four matches delivering drama, high-quality football and a plethora of unforgettable moments, while each game was in the balance until the dying seconds

The combined margins came to just 15 points, a record-equalling low for a four-game finals weekend that matched the opening round of the 1996 playoffs.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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