NRL Finals Week 3: Cronulla v North Queensland – One more

Cronulla Sharks 32 North Queensland Cowboys 20

7:55 pm, Friday 23rd September

Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Paul Macadam

Cronulla are in a Grand Final. Say it to yourself. Mumble it under your breath. Cronulla. In a grand final.

 

Your legs are sore the next morning. So are your lungs. You’ve made every tackle, ground out every post-contact metre, and shouted all the coaching instructions. Your walk back to Central that went out of its way to avoid Bazza O’Fazza’s bridge to nowhere took its toll on the leg muscles, too. You’d do it all again. You’re going to have to do it all again. A rough night out on Saturday, and all it takes to turn your spirits back around is a reminder that the Cronulla Sharks are in a Grand Final.

 

7 o’clock at the Royal Exhibition. 55 minutes til kick-off. The parmi was delicious, the coca-cola welcomely undiluted. No signs of anxiety. Your people laugh and speculate and shout and laugh. Don’t worry about a thing, cos every little thing is gonna be alright.

 

In the ground now. You look around. All is blue. Lachlan Coote drops Townsend’s kick, and the response is equivalent to a try in a normal game. Which this is not. Twice denied by the video referee. Set after set on the North Queensland line with only a penalty goal to show. You’re concerned. Cronulla are calm. There is none of the panicked attacking that typified August. Straight from a scrum win, they go left. Fifita off-loads, Maloney to Leutele to Feki to the line all in one motion. The conversion is missed, but soon redeemed when a flimsy drop-out flies straight over the sideline.

 

Madly, it’s 30 minutes before the Cowboys are tackled in Cronulla’s 20 metre zone. They look clueless once they arrive; only your pessimistic match-watching mind sees a threat. Holmes loses control of the ball in-goal. Townsend dives in to deny the try. Chad appears to be on a mission. The threat is repelled, and order restored. Maloney breaks through the line after Heighington keeps the play alive. Normally Barba is there in support. Barba is down injured. Townsend backs up. Desperation to make up for Canberra means he overruns the pass, which is probably a metre forward. Not called. That’ll do nicely. Townsend’s celebration is something else. No smiles, no pumping of fists. Replays show him screaming before he puts the ball down. More anger than joy. 14-0 reflects the action. You just wish it was 20. Taumololo has been made anoLaurie Coote,nymous through exhaustion. Thurston isn’t given any room to move, or time to think. His final two involvements of the first-half are to be barrelled by Holmes, and dragged by his collar over the dead-ball line.

 

The people have spoken by text poll, and they want to hear “Horses” during the interval. It makes no sense and perfect sense. North Queensland’s early try is jammy in the extreme. Ball becomes stuck between Coote’s arms and the side of Townsend’s face, before being snatched away by the Cowboys fullback. Past Sharks sides might have lost their heads here. This one doesn’t. That’s as far as the fightback is allowed to advance. Cronulla’s next ten minutes are enormous – most of the territory, all the pressure. Prior’s numbers are mind-boggling. Like they did against Canberra, the backs ease their forwards’ workload by running from dummy-half. Lewis loses possession within sight of the line, but shortly after, runs a lovely line from a short ball to take the margin back out to 14. Ridiculously, you still feel tense.

 

Then Maloney. His first try happens so slowly that it looks illegitimate. Determination on his part, determination hindered by weariness on the Cowboys’ part. There’s a passage where Cronulla’s opponents don’t touch the ball for seven minutes. Should we let them have it for a bit? It almost shouldn’t be allowed. Nah.

 

Maloney’s second. Can you name me a moment when you’ve been happier? He somehow shifts directly to full speed after plucking an intercept from around his knees, and runs the rest of the way without a hand laid on him. The try would be memorable in regular circumstances. Here it meant much more, because you knew for certain even though it was sort of wrapped up anyway but nothing beats a long-range try. 19 years – 38 in some eyes – of longing for a grand final. Over. The noise is like what you imagine the first line of The Holy Grail is meant to evoke. Young Lads and Old Mates alike in disbelieving tears. Chad Townsend breaks down at full-time in the way only a local player could.

 

Look at that black, white and blue ocean. Sharks fans don’t travel, they said. You won’t be hearing that for much longer. 32 thousand did. I believe that almost everyone who cares enough about sport is a sore loser. You know I’m right on this. And I’m suspicious of fans who appear unfazed by defeat. The more accurate measure of character is not being a sore winner. Three or four gronks aside, all of bay 36 applauds Johnathan Thurston as he walks past us at the end.

 

I’m not bothered by the three tries conceded in garbage time, because they were conceded in garbage time. Energy conservation was rightly the order. The 2014 Souths side let in two late tries to the Roosters, and four against Manly, before delivering the 80 minute performance that counted for most. We can do the same.

 

Back to round 26 for a minute. Melbourne beat us, and beat us to the minor premiership by doing so. Flanagan insisted that his players stay on the field to watch Melbourne claim the J.J. Giltinan Shield. There was no Origin-style snub. The Sharks watched, waited, clapped. In silence. I think Flanagan did this for two reasons. The first was for the sake of good sportsmanship. Second was to make sure it hurt. Give a sample of how much it sucks to be a guest at someone else’s victory lap. The subtext? Don’t let that be you on October 2nd.

 

We’ve seen a different gang of Sharks since the night in Melbourne. A team that seldom panics. A team that knows the time will come. The time for a try; the time for a title. Sunday beckons. One more win. One more would top your wedding day.

 


Cronulla Sharks 32 (James Maloney 2, Sosaia Feki, Chad Townsend, Luke Lewis tries, Maloney 6 goals) defeated North Queensland Cowboys 20 (Kyle Feldt 2, Lachlan Coote, Coen Hess tries, Johnathan Thurston 2 goals). Crowd: 36 717.

About Paul Macadam

Songwriter under my own name, drummer for Library Siesta. Newly ecstatic Cronulla tragic who also loves Liverpool because life wasn't meant to be easy. Too slow for the wing, too skinny for the second row.

Comments

  1. kath presdee says:

    Make sure the light is still on. I hear there may be a Chinese sub entering the Parramatta River on Sunday night…

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