Valentine Holmes the hero as Cowboys hunt down Sharks to win NRL golden point thriller

Valentine Holmes has kicked a 92nd minute field goal to put North Queensland one game away from the NRL grand final with a dramatic 32-30 golden-point win over Cronulla.

In front of 12, 447 fans at PointsBet Stadium on Saturday night, the two sides were tied up 30-30 at the end of regulation time after a late Jason Taumalolo try for the Cowboys.

After 10 minutes of extra-time when neither side was able to score, it was left to Sharks premiership winner Holmes to slot the two-pointer against his former team and give the Cowboys victory from 44 metres out.

The win guarantees the Cowboys will host a preliminary final in Townsville for the first time. The winner of the semi-final between Parramatta and Canberra is the only hurdle remaining between them and a place in the grand final.

Chad Townsend was key to the Cowboys’ fortunes as he returned to play his former club for the first time since leaving for Townsville last year. His kick set up Tom Gilbert for the opening try of the night with Peta Hiku and Tom Dearden also scoring to help the Cowboys get away to a fast start.

The defeat was just Cronulla’s second at home this season and they will now face the winner of Sunday’s clash between the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney in a sudden-death game at Allianz Stadium next week.

Cronulla’s points tally was the highest for a losing side in a finals game since 2014 and the Sharks would be kicking themselves as with eight minutes to go in regular time they were firmly in control. Hynes was faultless from the tee converting tries from Toby Rudolf, Siosifa Talakai and Will Kennedy.

Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi scored the first try after the break but Holmes was unable to add the extras from the touchline. That gave the Sharks the upperhand after Cameron McInnes and Kennedy went in for tries late in the second half.

But then the game took a twist. Leading by eight points, the Sharks were dealt a cruel blow when Connor Tracey was sinbinned for taking out Holmes as he attempted to dive on an in-goal grubber. Holmes slotted the penalty goal before converting a late barge-over from a resurgent Taumalolo to send the game into extra-time.

It had been nip and tuck throughout the game with the scores tied 18-18 at half-time, and then 30-30 at the end of 80 minutes. And the game stayed on a knife’s edge in extra time as heavy legs and scrambled brains took their toll on both sides.

Cronulla halfback Nicho Hynes had a field goal charged down in extra-time before Holmes calmly iced the game in golden point.

Sharks captain Wade Graham described the crushing last-gasp loss as “a mixture of pride and disappointment.”

“Both teams were up for it,” Graham reflected. “What’s done is done now, we just have to wear it and move on. The thing that probably disappoints us the most is we scored 30 points and the way we defended throughout the season we would probably get that done nine times out of 10.

“So we have a simple focus in front of us, we’re back to work tomorrow and get prepared for next week. We earned a second crack so the disappointment is here right now but we’re on again next week so we just have to dust it off.”