A rookie halfback who moved away from home at 12 years of age to pursue his NRL dream has given Cronulla coach John Morris a selection headache after leading the Sharks to a 28-12 defeat of North Queensland at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Morris had to gain special dispensation for Braydon Trindall to play on Saturday after star playmaker Shaun Johnson succumbed to a groin injury and he opted for the 21-year-old ahead of former NSW Origin five-eighth Matt Moylan.
Playing just his third NRL match, Trindall made a compelling case to retain a place in the team when halfback Chad Johnson returns from injury in Friday night's match against Newcastle.
Trindall, who starred for the Sharks in the 2018 Jersey Flegg grand final and led Newtown to last year's Canterbury Cup premiership, has been destined for an NRL career since moving from Wee Waa in NSW to the Sunshine Coast as a 12-year-old.
"I moved away from family at a young age – 12 or so – and lived with family friends to look for a better opportunity to do what I am doing today," said Trindall, whose father is a cousin of former South Sydney halfback Darrell Trindall.
"It was tough living away from family but you get used to it after a while and it is something you have to do to chase your dream, I guess.
"I am very proud, myself and my family. My parents pushed me and they got me to where I am today. It is a dream come true."
Match: Sharks v Cowboys
Round 16 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
Trindall, who has pledged his State of Origin allegiance to Queensland, had a hand in two of Cronulla's five tries and crossed twice himself only to be denied by the Bunker.
The 2019 Queensland under-20s representative controlled the game from the outset as Cronulla dominated a Cowboys outfit who were missing Jason Taumalolo (calf) and lost captain Michael Morgan after just 15 minutes with a potentially season-ending calf injury.
"I have a lot of confidence in Braydon and Connor Tracey, as well," Morris said. "Connor has been in our side all year but that was actually his first game starting at five-eighth and I am sure you would agree he had a good game and is a quality player.
"They are putting a lot of pressure on Chad and Shaun, and obviously Matt as well. Shaun is a low grade hamstring and it is a short turnaround so I don't like his chances this week but we are hoping to get Chad [Townsend] back."
The win ensures Cronulla remain four points clear of the ninth-placed Warriors, who upset Newcastle 36-6 earlier on Saturday to give the Sharks a chance to leapfrog the Knights into seventh spot when they meet on Friday night.
The Sharks then face the Warriors, Roosters and Raiders in a tough run home but with a for-and-against that is 131 points better than the New Zealand team they should secure a finals berth with one more win.
"I have got full belief in my team that we can do something, we are still nowhere near our best but we haven't run out our best 17 once this season," Morris said. "I think it is going to come down to attrition and the healthiest 17 is going to give it a real shake."
Nikora bursts through on the right edge
After an early try to North Queensland winger Kyle Feldt it was virtually all one-way traffic as Trindall crossed the try line twice early before putting second-rower Briton Nikora over in the 15th minute.
Trindall appeared to have scored in the 10th minute when he stole the ball from teammate Jesse Ramien as he was held by three defenders on the Cowboys line but the try was disallowed because of an obstruction from Sharks second-rower Scott Sorensen.
He was again denied three minutes later after North Queensland star Valentine Holmes bumped his hand as he was about to ground a loose ball in the Cowboys in-goal, but finally helped put Cronulla on the score board when he put Nikora over in the ensuing set of tackles.
With Morgan limping from the field, Cowboys coach Josh Hannay was forced into a backline reshuffle with Josh Drinkwater moving to five-eighth and Holmes shifting to fullback.
However, the changes could not stem the tide as the Sharks capitalised on a 94 per cent first half completion rate to take a 16-6 lead at the interval.
Winger Sione Katoa finished a spectacular 24th-minute try by hurdling over Holmes to score off a long ball from fullback Will Kennedy and prop Braden Hamlin-Uele charging through the defence five minutes later.
A Trindall flick pass put Nikora into space before stand-in centre Siosifa Talakai crossed three minutes into the second term to effectively put paid to North Queensland's hopes of a comeback.
Tricky pass from Trindall opens the game up for Talakai to score
The Sharks should have had another try from a Trindall kick but former Kangaroos centre Josh Dugan was ruled to be offside as he hobbled around behind the Cowboys defence with a leg injury that eventually forced him from the field.
Ramien also finished the match on the sideline after being accidentally poked in the eye while contesting a kick with Drinkwater.
Cronulla five-eighth Connor Tracey put the match beyond doubt when he scored in the 69th minute before Feldt crossed for a consolation try three minutes before fulltime.
Front-rowers combining is a thing of beauty