The wait for a maiden title continues for long suffering Cronulla fans but North Queensland will dare to dream after their staggering 39-0 NRL semi-final win in Townsville on Saturday night.
The Cowboys booked a grand final qualifier against the Storm in Melbourne next week after finally ending the Sharks’ brave title run in front of 21,683 rabid Townsville fans.
In their 20th anniversary season, North Queensland are on track to qualify for their first grand final since their sole 2005 appearance after ambushing the Sharks.
However, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for Cronulla who last made a grand final in 1997 – the longest drought for any team besides Canberra (1994).
And the disgruntled Sharks fans who trudged out of 1300Smiles Stadium did not have to be told that Cronulla have never won a title in their 49-season existence.
It was a remarkable turnaround for the traditionally slow-starting Cowboys, who had conceded the first points and the first try in seven straight games.
In contrast, the resurgent Sharks – the 2014 wooden spooners – had scored the first points in nine of their past 10 games.
North Queensland hit the ground running in Townsville, grabbing a 19-0 halftime lead and never looking back.
Pivot Michael Morgan had beat himself up during the week for not providing enough support for playmaker Johnathan Thurston in a quiet return from an ankle injury in last week’s 16-12 finals loss to Brisbane.
He vented his frustration on the Sharks, opening the scoring before completing a try scoring double in the 46th minute.
Morgan set the tone when he latched onto a Thurston cut-out pass and brought the Townsville fans to their feet by scoring in just the fifth minute.
North Queensland romped to a halftime lead thanks in part to Cronulla’s 16-2 missed tackle count.
The Cowboys kept their perfect finals record in Townsville (6-0) intact.
Cronulla have never won a final outside Sydney.
North Queensland won a season best 17 games this year including a club record 11-game streak.
But there was a debate that North Queensland – who went on a club record 11-game winning run this year – had peaked too early this season.
The win over Cronulla put an end to any doubts over their title credentials.
Despite the win Cowboys coach and former Sharks Halfback Paul Green insisted his team still had to get better to break their premiership drought.
“That was one of our better performances but there is still room for a bit of improvement,” Green said.
“I don’t want to sound too harsh on them but we are going to need to improve over the next week or two.”
Test prop Matt Scott set the platform by slicing up the Cronulla defence from the outset in a dominant display in which he amassed 150 metres.
“Matt set the tone for the night right from the kick-off and the rest of the boys got on the back of that,” Green said.
Green complimented his side’s attitude after overcoming last round’s 16-12 finals loss to Brisbane.
“I was happy with the way the boys dealt with last week’s loss – if you hang on to it too long it can affect your preparation.
“I could see we had moved on.”
Green played down Morgan coming off late in the clash with an ongoing ankle complaint.
Cronulla’s hopes weren’t helped by Sharks captain Paul Gallen coming off with an ankle injury in the 34th minute.
He returned to the field but was never at his best.
“They probably didn’t deserve that finish,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
“They worked their butts off but it wasn’t to be.”