Taumalolo terrific as Cowboys end Sharks' NRL defence in extra time
Cronulla Sharks' NRL title defence came to an end in dramatic fashion as Michael Morgan's drop goal secured a 15-14 extra-time victory for North Queensland Cowboys in an elimination final filled with controversy.
The Cowboys trailed for all but five minutes of regulation time on Sunday. Having fallen behind to a disputed third-minute score from Chad Townsend, the 2015 premiers only pulled level in the 78th minute through an Ethan Lowe penalty - awarded for a ball strip that the Sharks contested.
Morgan then produced the game's decisive moment at the end of the first period of extra time, landing a one-pointer after the outstanding Jason Taumalolo had produced yet another powerful run to give his side great field position.
Cronulla were unable to respond, meaning the Cowboys - still missing key men Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and Justin O'Neill at the end of an injury-plagued campaign - will move on to face Parramatta Eels next weekend.
The Sharks initially opened up an 8-0 lead as the Cowboys struggled to get going. Townsend pounced for an opportunistic score after the video referee ruled Antonio Winterstein had not grounded the ball in his own in-goal area, with James Maloney adding the extras and a subsequent second goal.
There were errors galore for the remainder of the half, which ended with Lowe kicking a penalty to reduce North Queensland's deficit after Maloney had been sin-binned for interfering with the second row as he looked to get on the end of a grubber kick.
By the time Maloney returned in the second period, the Cowboys were only two points behind - Morgan's cut-out pass having put Kyle Feldt over in the corner for a score that was not converted.
Townsend's perfectly timed grubber allowed the fit-again Jack Bird to give Cronulla breathing space, but Taumalolo soon powered over for another controversial try - amid doubts over whether the ball had been grounded - to set up a grandstand finale.
Lowe duly levelled things up after the Sharks had been penalised for stripping the ball deep in their own half and the Cowboys moved ahead for the first time when it mattered most, Morgan splitting the posts in the 85th minute.