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FANATICAL North Queensland fans were hoping this would be the beginning of big things for 2009. After disposing of the woeful Wests Tigers at home in Round 2, this would be the Cowboys’ big test.

Back into the swing of winning and with Matt Bowen fit and nearing top form, good signs were evident. And after the first five minutes things looked promising – penalties awarded in their favour and on the attack on the Storm try line. But the early dominance resulted in no points, just a flying Greg Inglis scooping up an ill-directed Matt Bowen pass to dash 95 metres and open the scoring for Melbourne.

From there the Storm managed to receive the balance of the ball and went to the break with an 18-12 lead, thanks to additional tries from Cooper Cronk and Anthony Quinn.

And the Storm, premiers in 2007 and grand-finalists in 2006 and 2008, don’t usually let a lead slip.

The Game Swung When… The match had developed into an ugly, error-ridden arm-wrestle prior to a piece of brilliance from Billy Slater in the 56th minute.
Drifting across-field on the Cowboys’ line with the score 20-12 in his team’s favour, the Australian representative managed to temporarily fend off Cowboy fill-in Shannon Hegarty. In the time Hegarty was on the deck, Slater drew in another Cowboy before sending a great pass to an unmarked Steve Turner on the wing.

Cameron Smith’s terrific sideline conversion took the margin to 14 – too much for a very tired Cowboys outfit.

Who Was Hot… Storm fullback Slater continues to show fans why he’s arguably the best footballer in the world.

‘Billy the Kid’ ran for 98 metres in his team’s victory – but it was his playmaking ability that caused the Cowboys the biggest problems. He set up Cronk’s four-pointer in the 22nd minute with a brilliant elusive run that beat Cowboy Luke O’Donnell before tossing the ball to Turner to score the deciding try.

Who Was Not… Matt Bowen’s error count (five) doesn’t do the fullback justice – but he was far from his best.

Back in just his third premiership match after radical knee surgery, ‘Mango’ didn’t provide his team with the impetus it’s used to – and several of his errors had a big impact on the outcome of the match.

He’ll be expected to hit back with an improved performance next week.

Had to Be Seen To Be Believed… Anthony Quinn’s 35th-minute try was a sensational team effort.

Appearing a simple left-hand side shift for a hit-up by Storm forward Ryan Hoffman, the second-rower offloaded to Greg Inglis, wrapping around the back, to charge into space.

Inglis attempted to draw Bowen at the back – but the Cowboys fullback did well to pre-empt and cover Will Chambers, the recipient of Inglis’ pass.

Almost as if planned, as Bowen went to tackle Chambers, Anthony Quinn angled into space from nowhere and received a perfectly timed pass to score a brilliant team try.

Refs watch… Referees Shayne Hayne and Gerard Sutton had to deal with several periods of ill discipline from both teams.

Early on the Storm struggled to play by the rules, conceding the first five penalties. In the 25th minute Hayne warned the Storm through their captain and it had its desired effect, the Melbourne team conceding just two penalties from then on.

As the tide of penalties turned, the Cowboys became restless. The frustration reached breaking point in the 62nd minute, with NQ captain Johnathan Thurston questioning Hayne regarding his decision-making.

It had little influence and the game at that point had been lost. At the end of the match both teams had been penalised on seven occasions.

Injuries… There were several worrying moments for the Cowboys’ fans as several of their big-name players appeared to suffer injuries – but thankfully none appear serious in the wash-up.

In the 19th minute Thurston appeared to be in a massive amount of pain after attempting to tackle Storm winger Steve Turner. It appeared ‘JT’ received an accidental elbow to the ribs, and the former Dally M medal winner returned to play without any signs of major inconvenience.

Fullback Bowen also appeared in pain later in the match, copping a head knock in the 28th minute. He stayed down for a short time, before returning to his feet and sending away trainers. He also finished the match. Best & Fairest… 3 points – Billy Slater (Storm): A sublime performance from the world’s best fullback; 2 points – Cameron Smith (Storm): Kicked five from five and performed well in his new role at five-eighth; 1 point – Jeff Lima (Storm): Kept his team on the front foot in the forwards’ battle, running an incredible 160 metres with the ball.

Storm 26 (G Inglis, C Cronk, A Quinn, S Turner tries; C Smith 5 goals) def Cowboys 12 (S Bolton, J Williams tries; J Thurston 2 goals) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Crowd: 21,489.

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