James Maloney leads Cronulla Sharks into NRL Grand Final
Last Updated: 23/09/16 3:25pm
James Maloney scored 18 points as Cronulla ended North Queensland's NRL title defence with a comprehensive 32-20 win in the first preliminary final.
Maloney led the Sharks attack superbly, scoring two tries and kicking five goals in a dominant display at Sydney's Allianz Stadium.
Cronulla advanced to the Grand Final on October 2, where they will play the winner of Saturday's match between the Melbourne Storm and Canberra Raiders.
The Sharks have never won the top prize in Australian rugby league but will go into the decider full of confidence after completely outplaying the defending champions.
"We're where we want to be, in the grand final, and now we want to go on and win the competition," said Cronulla captain Paul Gallen.
The Cowboys were under pressure from the outset, with the Sharks launching wave after wave of attacks at the North Queensland line in the opening stages.
The defending champions held out for 16 minutes until Maloney opened the scoring with a penalty.
Cronulla winger Sosaia Feki crossed in the corner six minutes later, with a second Maloney penalty soon after making it 8-0.
Five minutes before the break Maloney sliced through the North Queensland defence before firing an inside pass to half-back partner Chad Townsend, who scored next to the posts to give the Sharks a 14-0 lead at half-time.
North Queensland needed to score first after the restart and they did just that, with Lachlan Coote touching down two minutes into the second half.
But that was as good as it got for the North Queenslanders, who were soon forced on the defensive as the Sharks again dominated possession.
As the match wore on the Cowboys began to fatigue and the Sharks made the game safe with tries to Luke Lewis and a brace to Maloney, the last a 60-metre run to the line following an intercept.
The Cowboys hit back with three consolation tries as the Sharks switched off with the game won.
North Queensland skipper Johnathan Thurston offered no excuses.
"They were too good for us," he said. "We had a great opportunity and we blew it."