They are no longer the NRL’s best kept secret – the Cronulla Sharks are contenders in 2015.
Cronulla scored their eighth win from their last nine games with an impressive 30-18 victory over North Queensland on Saturday night.
On a chilly night in the shire, the Sharks ran out 12-point winners to move into equal fourth alongside South Sydney on the NRL table.
Wearing specially designed jerseys to celebrate the NRL’s Indigenous Round, Cronulla were impressive in the first half, enjoying almost 70 per cent of possession.
In contrast, the Cowboys were surprisingly flat.
While Cowboys’ superstar Johnathan Thurston tried to spark his team into action, North Queensland failed to really test Cronulla’s renowned goal-line defence in the first 40 minutes.
Cronulla took an early lead through a Michael Gordon penalty goal before Ricky Leutele crashed over for the first try after 20 minutes.
North Queensland failed to deal with a Cronulla bomb, leading to a repeat set on the Cowboys’ line.
Cronulla shifted left with Jeff Robson finding Gordon with a beautiful pass out the back for the fullback to draw and pass for Leutele to score.
Jack Bird continued his good form as he crossed 10 minutes later, again from a cleverly disguised pass from Robson, to give Cronulla a 14-0 lead at the break.
The Sharks enjoyed the perfect start to the second half when Gordon produced the try of the game.
After fielding a Thurston kick, Gordon busted the Cowboys’ line and ran 80 metres to score.
But the Cowboys wouldn’t be going away without a fight.
First, Lachlan Coote produced a deft kick into the in-goal area for Antonio Winterstein to score, before Kane Linnett crossed again three minutes later.
North Queensland then reduced the deficit to six points when Sam Tagataese was placed on report for a late hit on Thurston, with the halfback picking himself up to convert the penalty goal.
But Gerard Beale’s first try of the season was enough to break North Queensland’s spirit.
With the Cowboys attacking Cronulla’s line, Thurston attempted a cross field kick, only for Beale to mark it and run almost the length of the field to score under the posts.
Matthew Wright scored out wide to make for a nervous finish for Shane Flanagan, but Wade Graham barged over on full-time to seal a memorable win for the Sharks.
Cronulla Sharks 30 (Ricky Leutele, Jack Bird, Michael Gordon, Gerard Beale, Wade Graham tries. Gordon five goals.)
North Queensland Cowboys 18 (Antonio Winterstein, Kane Linnett, Matthew Wright tries. Johnathan Thurston three goals.)
At Remondis Stadium
Leader man of the match: Michael Gordon
Sharks’ next three: Storm (home), Tigers (home), Eels (away)