NORTH QUEENSLAND 39 CRONULLA 0
Video will begin in 5 seconds.
Cowboys ambush Sharks
Wait for a maiden title continues for long suffering Cronulla fans but North Queensland will dare to dream after staggering 39-0 semi-final win.PT1M29S 620 349
The Cowboys are off to Melbourne and quite possibly, the NRL grand final. Matt Scott looked like he wanted to carry the entire team there by himself. He almost did.
On Saturday night at 1300Smiles Stadium, the Cowboys prop turned in one of the great modern front-row performances to lead his side a 39-0 thrashing of the Cronulla Sharks, who would have their premiership dreams detonated in the wilds of the tropical north.
Title defence: Matthew Scott and the Cowboys will being their premiership campaign against Cronulla. Photo: Ian Hitchcock
Cronulla had arrived, as coach Shane Flanagan said, daring to dream. He also lampooned claims from Paul Green that the Sharks deserved to be favourites. On that front, at least, he was bang on the money.
From the moment they appeared through the haze of pre-game pyrotechnics, the Cowboys played like a team that was going to let nothing stand in their way. Not the Sharks and certainly not the referees, who have been the well-publicised finals villains around these parts.
It was complete dominance from North Queensland's co-captain. Scott was like a Sherman tank, with the infantry in tow. His first half was vintage (10 runs, 113m, four tackles busts) and included a 50m kick-off return that sent defenders bouncing off like ten pins.
Winging it: Antonio Winterstein scores a try for the North Queensland Cowboys against the Cronulla Sharks at 1300SMILES Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
Off the back of it all, the Cowboys would lead 19-0 at halftime, owning more than 60 per cent of the ball, running for 830m to the Sharks 431m and breaking 15 tackles to just two from the visitors. That just about told the story of the night.
Scott has played in pain all year and will have post-season surgery on his neck. That only adds to the inspired nature of his performance, which made the man-of-the-match voting a foregone conclusion after about 20 minutes.
Crucially for the Cowboys, they turned pressure into points. Michael Morgan crossed first, then Justin O'Neill and Scott Bolton, while Johnathan Thurston snapped a field goal for fun to make it 19-0 at half time.
Tough scene: Australian actor and Sharks fan Brendan Cowell does an interview before the start of the game.
By the 58th minute, Thurston was casually flinging the ball between his legs to set up tries. If anyone had thrown a lump of coal onto the field, the Cowboys would have sent it back as a golden nugget.
Morgan's second, five minutes after the break, virtually ended the contest, while anything and everything was going wrong for Cronulla, whose skipper Paul Gallen would be on and off the park seeking treatment for a nasty ankle injury.
That he played on through the pain was remarkable enough, although there will be equal amounts of anguish for Sharks fans who thought this might finally be the year for them to win a maiden premiership.
They had reason for optimism. In two games against the Cowboys this season, they had bested the Cowboys, both home and away. They had smashed South Sydney off the park, while the Cowboys were on the wrong end of a frantic intra-state battle with Brisbane.
As it transpired, the Sharks were the team that was miles off the pace. Their vaunted pack, so tough and dynamic for much of the season, was outgunned from the opening whistle. Along with Scott, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper and Jason Taumalolo had excellent nights at the office, as did Ben Hannant from the bench.
North Queensland now head to Melbourne, keeping alive the prospect of an all-Queensland grand final should they win and the Broncos defeat the Roosters. If they repeat this dose, they will take a mountain of stopping.
For the Sharks, Monday will be mad but the forecast for next season remains bright. They have recruited well and on this night, learned how high they must set the bar if they want to go one step further in 2016.