Cowboys bait for hungry Sharks in NRL

Cronulla have notched their biggest NRL win over North Queensland, running in eight tries in a 48-10 thrashing to add further misery for the winless Cowboys.

MICHAEL MORGAN of the Cowboys runs the ball during the NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the North Queensland Cowboys at Belmore Sports Ground in Sydney, Australia.
MICHAEL MORGAN of the Cowboys runs the ball during the NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the North Queensland Cowboys at Belmore Sports Ground in Sydney, Australia. Picture: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

North Queensland's NRL season has descended into further chaos with a "comical" 48-10 loss to Cronulla that had players confessing to a soft defensive effort for the second-straight week.

The Cowboys allowed six first-half tries, narrowly avoiding becoming the first team to concede 50 points this season in what was their biggest-ever loss to the Sharks.

The winless Cowboys were equally aimless in attack, needlessly running the ball over the sideline early in the tackle count as alarm bells rang louder for new coach Todd Payten.

The result follows a 44-8 loss to Gold Coast last weekend and comes as star playmaker Michael Morgan grapples with a career-threatening shoulder injury.

Hooker Jake Granville, forced into the centres with Coen Hess when both Justin O'Neill and Murray Taulagi failed their head-injury assessments, labelled their defence "soft and disconnected" while former Penrith halfback Greg Alexander labelled it "comical" at times in the Fox Sports commentary box.

Josh McGuire was similarly critical of his team's effort last weekend and Payten said it was hard to disagree.

"We all need to get on the same page and pay the price physically," he said.

"At the moment we're just making some individual choices around our effort that aren't up to NRL standard.

"It's hard to disagree (with those comments) when beaten by 40 points two weeks in a row ... it's good to know they have a clear understanding where we're at as well."

The Sharks (41 of 49) were ruthless, completing almost double the sets of the Cowboys (24 of 35) and boasting plenty of options behind the dynamic Matt Moylan and clever kicking of hooker Blayke Brailey.

In a clinical first-half display, they wreaked havoc on both edges of the depleted Cowboys defence.

A Brailey 40-20 opened the floodgates, Moylan scoring from a skilful Braden Hamlin-Uele flick pass for a 24-6 lead after 32 minutes.

They scored twice more in the next six minutes to lead 36-6 at the break, Chad Townsend (eight of eight) perfect with the boot, putting to rest his troubles after their round-two loss to Canberra.

The Cowboys' only first-half points came from a Sharks attacking raid gone wrong, with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow scooping up a loose ball and running 90 metres to score.

The Sharks suffered too, Josh Dugan another victim of concussion while Sharks teammate Ronaldo Mulitano (knee) was also sidelined in a frenetic first half.

The flood of points slowed in the second half, with Cowboys fullback Valentine Holmes scoring in the final minutes against his former team.

"It'd have to be up there for sure," Sharks coach John Morris said when asked if the first half was the best 40 minutes under his tenure.

"Just the intensity and some adversity, losing Duges and Ronaldo ... to have some key players out as well and perform like that is very pleasing."