IN humid and slippery conditions in Townsville the Titans beat the Cowboys in a contest in which handing was indifferent, defence was harder to break than a Rubik’s Cube, and neither side caused a premiership betting plunge.
That said, the Titans defence was strong, and they can hang their hats on keeping the Cowboys to 10 points at home. The visitors looked the better side, punching their way into the Cows’ paddock and playing the more disciplined footy. Deserved their win, especially after shoulder injuries to forwards Brad Myles and Aaron Cannings.
The Cowboys? They’re a confidence side and bar a 15-minute period in the second half, didn’t play with it. However! From the 50-65th minute they looked white hot: like a side that can tear you apart. But two referee calls went against them – one wrong, one marginal – and they dropped their heads.
The Game Swung When … There were two huge calls by the referees which dictated this game to a fair extent. The first in the 55th minute was palpably wrong and stopped the Cowboys from a very promising attacking raid. The second in the 65th minute was a 50:50 call but led to Scott Prince kicking a penalty goal that stretched the lead to eight points. More on these later.
Who Was Hot… The Titans’ forwards. Luke Bailey bent big holes in the Cowboys’ line (18 runs, 147 metres, 31 tackles), Ashley Harrison was busy around the ruck (14 runs, 73 metres, 35 tackles) and Nathan Friend made 50 tackles and scored a try he really had no right to be backing up for.
The Titans were also well served by Preston Campbell who kicked long and accurately, pinning North Queensland back. Campbell also hit Chris Walker with a great long pass for the Titans’ first try. Third-gamer Kevin Gordon had a good game on the wing catching two bombs and cleaning up well on a tricky Thurston grubber. Thurston peppered Gordon all night and the kid done good.
The Cowboys were best served by Luke O’Donnell (16 runs, 130 metres, 25 tackles) who ran good angles wide, and Grant Rovelli who was pretty handy at lock, playing like a five-eighth and being skilful one-off the ruck. Thurston kept trying but looks frustrated by a lack of options.
Who Was Not… In the 15th minute Rovelli booted a kick long into the Titans’ 10-metre line to find that the Titans had four (count ’em, four!) outside backs there to collect it. Wouldn’t this indicate there was space out wide?
And Matt Bowen… look, maybe we’re expecting too much after five rounds and a new knee. Probably we are. But we know what the bloke can do. And Bowen didn’t offer much from the back nor out wide running off his playmakers. Also threw a bad pass and dropped the ball 10 metres out. Kept the ball alive a couple of times but… we want the Old Matty back. He was great.
So too was Thurston. Still is. But the captain can take some blame for his team’s fate. His body language isn’t flash when things go against him, he argues with referees and his angst affects the team-mates he leads.
Bottom line though is that the Cowboys just didn’t score the tries they used to in the opposition’s Red Zone. Maybe Bowen is still ginger. Maybe Thurston is not confident. Maybe they don’t have enough weapons up front or out wide. Whatever – they don’t look good. And Dairy Farmers is no tropical graveyard.
For the Titans, in the 43rd minute Chris Walker waited under a high ball and didn’t jump for it, allowing Shannon Hegarty to run through and catch the ball and score. Didn’t put his body on the line, C Walker, and it cost his team.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Titans prop Aaron Cannings made a big bust up the middle of the ruck, bashing his way through Carl Webb’s tackle and running 20 metres. And while this is impressive, what makes this HTBSTBB is that backing up to take the pass and run 20 metres himself was fellow front-rower Bailey. In a hastily convened emergency meeting, both players were dismissed from the Old Front-rowers Club.
Bad Boys… Thurston put an old fashioned “facial massage” on the mug of Luke O’Dwyer and earned the wrath of Jared Maxwell. Won’t go any further. Well, shouldn’t…
But Aaron Payne was later hit with a dangerous contact charge – with an early guilty plea he’ll take to the field next week.
Ref Watch… Right. Those Big Calls. In the 55th minute, a clanger. O’Donnell ran through the line chasing a Thurston grubber. The back-rower slid in, grabbed the ball, bumped off a Titans defender and in the ensuing melee passed the ball. Maxwell’s ruling? O’Donnell was “held”. Penalty. Now, he’s a good ref, J Maxwell. But this was appeared a particularly bad call. And while the Cowboys might not have scored, the ball was alive 10 metres out and the livewires were tossing it about.
Ten minutes later, the Cowboys’ momentum still surging, Phil Haines ruled Thurston had knocked the ball out of the ball-carrier’s arms, the ball rebounding to hooker Aaron Payne offside. Maybe right, maybe not. But it led to Prince kicking the goal and the Cowboys were down by eight. And the Titans knew it.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Luke Bailey (Titans): Lots of metres, lots of tackles – big front-rower’s game in a tough one; 2 points – Preston Campbell (Titans): Kicking game kept North Queensland in North Queensland; 1 point – Nathan Friend (Titans): Made 50 tackles and scored a try.
Titans 14 (C Walker, N Friend tries; S Prince 3 goals) def Cowboys 10 (S Hegarty, J Thurston tries; J Thurston goal) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Crowd: 18,123.