Dan Walsh, NRL.com
A few weeks back it was the only tune the Cowboys knew, but with their second away victory on the trot – a 20-12 triumph over the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium – North Queensland have put their roadhouse blues well and truly behind them.
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Having secured a first away win of the year last week against the lowly Sharks on their home turf, the Cowboys dusted a much sterner proposition in the high-flying Bulldogs, ended an eight-year barren run at the Olympic venue to push themselves back up into the top eight for the first time since mid-May.
They did so without the services of NSW Origin prop James Tamou for the best part of an hour, with the Cowboys enforcer the victim of friendly fire from teammate Ashton Sims and sent off to hospital for scans on a neck injury as result.
Filling the 113kg void left by Tamou was who else but Johnathan Thurston, typically outstanding in laying on two tries and booting the match-clinching penalty from 30 metres out in the 78th minute.
Up until that point the Bulldogs continually threatened a reprise of their clutch-play exploits from earlier in the year, with a 61st-minute try to Josh Jackson setting the home side up for another of their famed grand stand finishes, only for the visitors to hold on for just their second win in eight games against the boys from Belmore.
Des Hasler's pre-game shuffling of the blue and white deck chairs to accommodate the return of fullback Sam Perrett backfired for the Bulldogs, with youngster Moses Mbye caught out a number of times in defence in the centres, while Tony Williams also failed to recapture the glory of previous performances in the halves when switched to five-eighth – though throughout the opening 20 minutes it looked as though the 9,873 in attendance were set to witness another Hasler masterstroke.
With the home side making all the running it was Mitch Brown, shifted to the wing to make room at the back for Perrett, who first had the scorers up out of their chairs in the 13th minute. He was the benefactor of a slick catch-and-pass movement from youngster Mbye, after opposite number Matthew Wright had been denied by a matter of inches when he caught an inch of the touch-in-goal line while touching down four minutes earlier.
If Wright was slighted by being denied the opening four-pointer, he went about rectifying it in the most emphatic fashion possible with a try-scoring double in the space of four minutes that pushed the Cowboys out as 10-6 frontrunners by the 28th minute.
On both occasions the wingman was the benefactor of superb lead-up play from his inside men. First it was a pass from Michael Morgan, who shrugged off a fairy-floss soft attempted tackle from Mbye to feed Wright with an unhindered passage to the line, and then a chip kick from Thurston that came with the type of bounce most wingers have to wait until they've died and gone to heaven for.
A penalty shot from 25 metres out from Thurston ensured the visitors took a six-point lead into the sheds, a position they had never lost from on the four previous occasions they had led at half-time at ANZ Stadium.
Upon the resumption Thurston was again in the thick of it, this time swinging to the right edge with a sublime cut-out ball landing on the chest of winger Antonio Winterstein, and then converting from near the sideline to push their advantage to double figures in the 47th minute.
A series of mistakes in their own half from the visitors – with Morgan in particular struggling at the back and offering a golden opportunity with a knock on in his own in-goal midway through proceedings – went unpunished by the Bulldogs, who themselves squandered a number of attacking chances.
Jackson's touchdown just past the hour mark – courtesy of a short ball from Trent Hodkinson that saw him pour through a gaping hole on the Cowboys line – drew the Dogs within a converted try, but a penalty against Sam Kasiano with the clock winding down gave Thurston the chance to seal a deserved win for the Cowboys, one that puts them on equal footing with the Broncos, Warriors, Eels and Tigers on 22 competition points.
North Queensland Cowboys 20 (M Wright 2, A Winterstein tries; J Thurston 4 goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 12 (M Brown tries, J Jackson; T Hodkinson 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 9,873