THIS clash had the obligatory ‘must-win’ cliché written all over it. The Warriors and Cowboys were in danger of slipping out of touch with teams in the top eight and, sitting on nine and eight points respectively, whoever lost would risk a season without finals football.
And it was the travelling side that started the match stronger, scoring twice in the first half to take a 10-2 lead into the break. Despite a promising comeback in the second half, the Warriors just couldn’t control the Cowboys’ livewire attacking aces, with the North Queenslanders racing to a strong win on the back of some sparkling play late in the match.
The Game Swung When... The Warriors appeared to be gaining the upper hand early in the second half after Cowboy James Tamou was sin-binned in the 58th minute and after conceding points captain Johnathan Thurston inexplicably kicked out on the full from the restart.
But the visitors held on following the onslaught and Ashley Graham’s try in the 73rd minute sealed the victory. It came after a right-to-left shift of play isolated the centre against Jerome Ropati, who pushed him off with ease before holding off veteran half Stacey Jones to slide across in the corner. With a brilliant Thurston conversion slicing from touch between the posts, the 10-point lead was too much for the Warriors – and the Cowboys kept their foot on the accelerator with another two late-match four-pointers.
Who Was Hot... Johnathan Thurston continued his stint as the game’s in-form playmaker with another influential display. ‘JT’ may have not been at his attacking best in the first half, but there was no doubting his efforts in all parts of the game. The no.7 made an amazing 23 tackles, injecting himself and throwing himself at the Warriors’ best attacking players. But his impressive defensive performance didn’t hinder his abilities with ball in hand late in the match; he still finished with two try assists and a line-break.
Who Was Not... Big Queenslander Carl ‘Charlie’ Webb had another disappointing match and the Queensland and Australia veteran must be long odds of representing this season. His performance this match: 10 runs for 75 metres and three errors. Two of those mistakes came at a crucial stage in the match, with the Warriors holding momentum; coach Neil Henry subsequently ordered him off the paddock.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed... Arguably the try of the week, Ben Farrar’s 75th-minute four-pointer was this match’s highlight.
Started by a Luke O’Donnell run and a smart left-hand offload, electric fullback Matt Bowen found space before flicking a sublime pass to interchange forward James Tamou. The Kiwi ran just a few metres before spiralling a pass over a Warrior for Willie Tonga to accept the ball on the bounce, before he beat Nathan Fien and kicked ahead. The ball amazingly evaded the Warriors’ cover defence before bouncing for Farrar to swoop. Game, set, match – and in brilliant fashion.
Refs Watch... Ben Cummins and Alan Shortall had a tough afternoon. Most notably Shortall sent Tamou to the bin in the 58th minute after what was deemed a professional foul. Earlier in the match Shortall was quick to penalise the Warriors – and the Cowboys enjoyed the boost. Soon after, though, he held talks with acting Warriors captain Micheal Luck (Steve Price was resting on the bench) about repeated offences.
Cummins also gave the obligatory message in the 43rd minute, delaying play, and was confronted by an angry Thurston after a series of penalties with the game in the balance. In total the referees blew 16 penalties.
Injuries... Apart from Shane Tronc’s cut above his eye, which required eight stiches but saw him return to the match, no serious injuries were sustained by either team.
NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys): Tough in defence and effective in attack as always; 2 points – Matt Bowen (Cowboys): Returning to his best with several strong runs and two line-breaks; 1 point – Wade McKinnon (Warriors): A game-high 163 metres in another influential effort at the back.
Cowboys 34 (L O’Donnell, J Thurston, W Tonga, A Graham, B Farrar, M Bowen tries; J Thurston 5 goals) def Warriors 12 (N Fien, D Kemp tries; D Kemp 2 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Crowd: 16,345.