North Queenslands 2013 NRL campaign ended controversially when a seventh tackle try helped Cronulla to advance with a tension-packed 20-18 victory in Saturday nights elimination final at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
It was confirmed after a halftime review that Beau Ryans eighth-minute try for the Sharks had been scored on the seventh tackle.
This led to the NRL immediately releasing a statement confirming it would be conducting an inquiry into how the error occurred.
The admission of the mistake was of scant comfort to the Cowboys as they were forced to make an instant exit from the finals in the most unfortunate circumstances (having also been knocked out in cruel and contentious fashion by Manly in last year's finals).
There was also drama galore at the end of the match as the Cowboys pressed for a late winner, centre Kane Linnett crossing wide out for what shaped as a remarkable match-winning try until replays clearly established Linnett was in touch before he put the ball down. If that was devastating for North Queensland it came as total relief for the Sharks.
And yet still the drama wasnt over. There were questions about whether the match had gone past fulltime when a scrum was ordered after Linnetts would-be try. Cronulla captain Paul Gallen remonstrated with referee Matt Cecchin after the ground clock appeared to fail.
The Cowboys had opened the scoring with a totally legitimate try when former Vodafone Warriors centre Brent Tate crossed after a sweetly worked scrum move.
It was countered by Cronullas now infamous seventh tackle try and another to centre Ben Pomeroy in the 25th minute which enabled the Sharks to go to halftime 12-8 ahead.
The Cowboys began to find their range in the early stages of the second half, sparked into life as Aucklander Wayne Ulugia, a former Junior Kiwi, scooted 80 metres after intercepting a Todd Carney pass.
Johnathan Thurstons conversion missed leaving the contest locked up 12-12 but seven minutes later the Cowboys had the lead through another New Zealander in Jason Taumalolo. Coming off the bench, the giant Auckland-raised Junior Kiwi had an exceptional impact in his time on the field, crunching through multiple defenders with regularity (he was credited with 13 tackle breaks and made 112 metres from 12 runs).
When Cronulla failed to cover a kick, Taumalolo fed off the scraps to score, Thurston converted and North Queensland was 18-12 ahead.
It became 18-16 in the 62nd minute when yet another New Zealander influenced proceedings, Wellingtonian Sam Tagataese. Educated at St Bernards College the same school Ben Matulino attended Tagataese powered over for a try Michael Gordon couldnt convert.
Down by two points, Cronulla found a hero in still another New Zealander when rookie winger and former Vodafone Junior Warrior Sosaia Feki gleefully took his chance to score the go-ahead try wide out in the 73rd minute.
The Sharks somehow negotiated the final minutes but the outcome seemed to be of minimal interest immediately afterwards as the focus went on the seventh tackle try and its impact on proceedings.
At Allianz Stadium, Randwick
(5) Cronulla Sharks 20 (Beau Ryan, Ben Pomeroy, Sam Tagataese, Sosaia Feki tries; Michael Gordon 2 conversions).
(8) North Queensland Cowboys 18 (Brent Tate, Wayne Ulugia, Jason Taumalolo tries; Johnathan Thurston 2 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 12-8 Sharks.
Referees: Matt Cecchin and Henry Perenara.