Cronulla and the Cowboys entered Shark Park on Sunday with question marks over whether they are legitimate title contenders or not.

The hosts obliterated those doubts but North Queensland remain a side with a reputation of putting away the easybeats but one that struggles against the top teams.

Cronulla powered to a 24-0 half-time lead and reclaimed top spot on the ladder from Melbourne with a 42-6 rout, their most impressive performance of the season. They have now impreoved to a 5-1 record with a shock loss to the Tigers in Round 3 the only blemish on an otherwise spotless campaign.

Hynes is looming as a strong chance to win his second Dally M Medal as the maestro who orchestrates Cronulla’s attack and in concert with halves partner Braydon Trindall, they had a field day against their listless opponents.

North Queensland have lost three of their past four matches and coach Todd Payten tried to re-energise his side by bringing Maroons forward Jeremiah Nanai off the bench but the move did little to turn their fortunes around.

Cowboys battered black, white and blue

The Sharks drew first blood in just the third minute when Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater inexplicably passed to nobody after reeling in a high kick and his opposite number, Will Kennedy, gleefully accepted the bouncing ball 15 metres out from the line.

Front-rower Tom Hazelton enhanced his cult hero status with the Cronulla faithful when he stepped past four half-hearted tacklers to touch down next to the posts. 

There was an even bigger roar from the stands when Trindall kicked wide and winger Sam Stonestreet collected the crumbs to salute the crowd before diving over on debut for an 18-0 lead.

His family and a phalanx of friends were perfectly positioned in the south-western corner to witness his magical moment after he was called up for suspended speedster Sione Katoa.

Trindall was on the receiving end of the kick for Cronulla’s fourth try when Blayke Brailey dribbled a grubber into the in-goal area to make it four unanswered tries in the opening 40 minutes.

The floodgates reopened seven minutes into the second half when Trindall again bobbed up on the right spot, this time he benefited from a Briton Nikora bat-back from a Hynes bomb to make it 30-0.

Drinkwater claimed Nikora acted as a disruptor to ruin his chances of defusing the bomb but the Bunker gave the Kiwi international the benefit of the doubt. 

Ronaldo Mulitalo chimed onto the end of a Hynes sweep play and ran all the way around under the posts as the Cowboys defensive line stood still, just like they pretty much did before he got the ball.

Former Sharks premiership winners Chad Townsend and Valentine Holmes combined to stem the bleeding with the halfback kicking behind the line for the centre to score.

Mulitalo notched his third try-scoring double in a row five minutes fom full-time when Kennedy added variation to Cronulla’s right-side sweep by putting the last pass through for the left winger to beat Tom Chester’s despairing dive.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21: Thomas Hazelton of the Sharks scores a try during the round seven NRL match between Cronulla Sharks and North Queensland Cowboys at PointsBet Stadium, on April 21, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Thomas Hazelton scores a try. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Payten has problems to solve

The Cowboys got off to a great start to the season by thrashing the Dolphins, knocking over Newcastle and dominating the Dragons but they have since come crashing back to earth.

They were well off the pace in getting a 38-12 flogging from Brisbane, did enough to beat the winless Titans but after going down to Parramatta 27-20 last week, their Shark Park performance was easily their worst.

Payten said he wanted his team to stand up to be counted in this match but the 80 minutes of evidence before the coach should tell him that they are a long way from being genuine title contenders.

They surprised the NRL by going all the way to the preliminary final in 2022 but after dropping to 11th last year they look like they will again finish somewhere in the middle rather than again challenging for the playoffs.





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