Cronulla have confirmed themselves as NRL title contenders with a memorable 13-10 win over premiers North Queensland at Shark Park on Monday night.
The Sharks faithful have right to believe that a maiden premiership is within reach following their 10th straight win, which ensured they stayed at the top of the NRL ladder following the tense clash played out in front of 13,119 fans.
NSW will be sweating on the findings of the match review committee with James Tamou and Wade Graham both facing being rubbed out of next week's Origin II in Brisbane.
Tamou was penalised for a shoulder charge on Blues teammate Andrew Fifita, who reacted by throwing the ball at the head of the Cowboys prop.While Graham, who was on Monday night named to replace Boyd Cordner, collared a falling Johnathan Thurston in a high tackle.Graham played a blinder and harassed Thurston all night, the forward also came up with a try-saver on Matt Scott.
Neither were put on report but will come under the microscope of the MRC.On the back of a dodgy knock-on call against Ben Barba, the Cowboys evened it up at 10-10 with a penalty conversion with 14 minutes to go.
However Maloney potted the winning one-pointer in the 74th minute before sealing it with a penalty goal four minutes later.The Sharks pack was simply more dominant and strangled the Cowboys of field position and possession in the second stanza to set up a potentially season-defining win.
Tamou's shot on Fifita provided the flashpoint for the first half which saw 11 penalties blown in the first 25 minutes and both sets of captains handed a warning by the referees.
The Cowboys hit the front early via Antonio Winterstein thanks to some Sharks ill discipline but a scintillating 90m intercept try from Valentine Holmes ensured the home side went into the break level at 8-8.
Holmes juggled the pass before turning Cowboys fullback inside out several times with some fancy footwork before diving over.
The Sharks had a mountain of possession inside the Cowboys' red zone in the first 20 minutes of the second half but could only manage a penalty conversion to Maloney for all their dominance but did enough to get over the line in a try-less second stanza.
Sharks forward Jason Bukuya was also put on report for a lifting tackle on Justin O'Neill.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said while it set up the side's back half of the season well, he was focusing on the bigger picture and was spurring his troops to maintain their purple patch.
"I think beating any of those top teams, we get a certain satisfaction out of it and elation," Flanagan said.
"I thought it was a real tough game. The score reflects that. But just the way we played, I'm just really happy they stuck to it."
Cowboys coach Paul Green he said he was disappointed in the decision to deny Scott a try and insisted he maintained possessions despite Graham appearing to rake the ball free.
However he refused to blame the result on that incident and said his side were simply starved of possession and lamented his side's 66 per completion rate.
"With the possession and number of plays we had, I thought we fought really hard and hung in really well," Green said.
"In that second half we fought our way back and got given a couple of opportunities to close the game out but full credit to them."