It has taken five weeks but the Cowboys have finally arrived, thanks to improved contributions from fullback Michael Morgan and Robert Lui, running out convincing 28-2 winners over Newcastle at 1300SMILES Stadium on Monday night.
Morgan bagged a double along with a try assist, while Lui had a hand in three tries, along with a running effort of 100 metres.
After averaging 15 errors per game prior to Monday night, the Cowboys made just seven while forcing 13 from the visitors in a much improved performance.
After Newcastle skipper Kurt Gidley opened the scoring in the seventh minute with a penalty goal for a ruck infringement close to the Cowboys' line, the home side gradually worked their way back into the contest before their attack finally clicked into gear.
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The second-worst attack in the competition heading into Round 5 sprung to life with a three-try burst in the space of nine minutes from the 19th minute mark that started with a perfectly weighted Robert Lui kick to the corner for a waiting Matthew Wright. Wright twisted in an attempted Newcastle tackle before scoring his first try for his new club, with Johnathan Thurston's superb sideline conversion putting the Cowboys four points in front.
But the best was yet to come as the Cowboys delivered their most clinical set of the season to go coast-to-coast and extend their advantage to eight points.
Jason Taumalolo punched a hole in the Knights' right edge defence courtesy of a Thurston short ball and from the ensuing play-the-ball Lui was able to charge into the backfield. Trying to link with his fullback as he veered to the right, Lui's pass was interfered with but Morgan showed great presence of mind to knee the ball into the air, the ball falling fortuitously into the arms of Brent Tate who raced over to score.
The Cowboys were at it again six minutes later after another penalty against the Knights gave the home side excellent field position and the three key playmakers – Lui, Thurston and Morgan – all combined for Morgan to score. Tate ran a beautiful outside-in decoy line that created space for Morgan wrapping around the outside and extended North Queensland's lead to 16-2 at the break.
After going into the sheds displaying the kind of polish lacking in recent weeks, the simple errors hinted a return for the home side at the start of the second half.
After a dropped ball had the Cowboys reeling in their own red zone, they survived Newcastle’s initial foray, with the visitors forcing a repeat set. But the visitors showed that it just maybe wasn’t their night when halfback Tyrone Roberts dropped a ball in an attempt for first points of the half.
After the initial hiccup the Cowboys were pressing again, with Thurston putting on copybook dummies and inside balls that all but broke the line.
Finally, after immense pressure, the visitors again faulted and Morgan had his second of the night. In a play where Knights coach Wayne Bennett would have been wondering, ‘Where was my fullback?’ Morgan spotted a gap close to the line, electing to put on a grubber kick for himself and despite stumbling, had enough time to plant the ball.
The Cowboys had it all but wrapped up when Ray Thompson joined the try-scoring party.
The makeshift hooker made a simple scoot out of dummy half, beating multiple left edge defenders and trotting 20 metres for the simplest of tries and when Thurston split the sticks, the scoreboard read 28-2 after 63 minutes.
The Cowboys stonewalling defence continued until the 80th minute when they quashed a last ditch Newcastle effort to find the chalk.