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Nicho Hynes masterclass dashes North Queensland Cowboys’ finals hopes

Nicho Hynes has starred in Cronulla's 32-12 triumph over the Cowboys in north Queensland.

Nicho Hynes has starred in Cronulla's 32-12 triumph over the Cowboys in north Queensland. Photo: AAP

Cronulla has all but ended North Queensland’s 2023 NRL finals aspirations with a 32-12 win in Townsville.

The Sharks kept the Cowboys scoreless in the second half and consigned them to a third straight loss in what was a must-win game for Todd Payten’s side.

North Queensland entered the game ninth on the ladder and tied on points with eighth-placed South Sydney (28).

The Cowboys must now win their next two away games against the Dolphins and Penrith to potentially finish in the top eight.

Other results must also go the Cowboys’ way.

But for Craig Fitzgibbon and his Cronulla side, their third straight victory and an exemplary defensive display has come at the right time as they moved past Melbourne (32 points) into fourth on points differential.

With games to come against top-eight sides Newcastle (away) and Canberra (home), the Sharks need only one win to lock up consecutive finals appearances since Fitzgibbon became coach and maintain a charge towards back-to-back top-four finishes.

Nicho Hynes was again instrumental and it was his kick behind the line for Wade Graham that extended the Sharks’ 18-12 half-time lead.

A Hynes penalty 10 minutes from time dashed any semblance of a comeback before the mercurial playmaker bounced off both feet to score and put the nail in North Queensland’s coffin.

It wasn’t all Cronulla on Thursday night however. A tentative start to the contest that saw no stoppages for seven minutes was broken by Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater.

Drinkwater nearly gifted Cronulla a try at his own end, but on the next set he darted off a quick pass from dummy half Reece Robson through the ruck to post the first points.

Cronulla responded when Hynes and Connor Tracey combined to put Ronaldo Mulitalo over five minutes later, before a long run across the defensive line by Chad Townsend gave Semi Valemei his ninth try in as many games.

Off the back of a seven tackle set from Tom Dearden’s miscued kick, Cronulla hummed into gear and quickly put two tries on in as many minutes.

Several offloads early in their set had the Sharks circling and Blayke Brailey shelved a pass to towering Thomas Hazelton next to the posts for their second try of the evening.

A penalty off the restart set gave Cronulla more territory and this time it was fellow interchange front-rower Royce Hunt bagging a try after breaking two tacklers and lunging for the line.

Cronulla remains undefeated at Queensland Country Bank Stadium and has won 10 of their past 11 against the Cowboys.

-AAP

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