Nigel Wall, NRL.com
The Cowboys defeated the Knights 22-14 at the Stadium formerly known as Dairy Farmers (now 1300SMILES) in Round 25 last season.
Newcastle, walking the 2012 finals tightrope, drew first blood when Timana Tahu crossed in the left corner with just three minutes on the clock after a snappy pass from Rob Rochow recovering the scraps of a Jarrod Mulled bomb; Tahu’s try saw him surpass Adam MacDougall as leading try-scorer in Tricolours history.
Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston strolled over on the left edge in the 8th minute to give his side a 6-4 lead – but it was the impact of fullback Matt Bowen that really thrust the Cowboys on the front foot.
First Bowen scored off a short pass from Anthony Mitchell to make it 12-4 in the 20th minute, before he drove a dagger through the Knights’ hearts six minutes later when initiating a length-of-the-field try that made it 18-4. Bowen fielded a bomb a few metres out from his try line, evaded the Knights’ left-edge defence and offloaded to Mitchell who put Brent Tate away on a 40-metre sprint to the try line.
Three minutes later the Knights struck back when Tahu crossed for his second try of the evening, receiving an all-too-rare try assist from fullback Darius Boyd, and when right-side centre Dane Gagai scored approaching halftime, fans of the visiting side were finding the 18-14 scoreline a lot easier to swallow.
The second half yielded plenty of action and metres, particularly from the Cowboys as Thurston and Bowen combined to try to hand their team some added breathing space. But the Knights’ defence held firm.
Two penalties involving target Thurston – one for taking the No.6 out and the other for tackling him from an offside position – saw the Knights concede the only points of the second 40 for the final 22-14 scoreline.
North Queensland deserved the win – they dominated possession (55 per cent to 45 per cent), field position (1551 metres to 1177 metres) and missed 27 tackles to the visitors’ 44.
Bowen starred with three line-breaks, a try, 13 tackle busts and 175 metres, while Thurston contributed two line-breaks, three offload and ran for 110 metres. Props Matthew Scott and James Tamou made a combined 39 hit-ups for 355 metres, while Brent Tate added 165 metres.
Best for the Knights included Gagai (a try, nine tackle-breaks and 161 metres), Tahu (two tries, two line-breaks and two offloads) and Boyd (two try assists and two line-break assists).