NORTH Queensland continued their recent resurgence with an impressive 36-10 thrashing of in-form Newcastle at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
The Cowboys dominated in the middle of the park and capitalised on a series of missed opportunities by the visitors to record their third win a row and move to within one point of the top eight.
As usual it was Johnathan Thurston pulling the strings while Aaron Payne, Luke O’Donnell and Antonio Kaufusi were also impressive.
O’Donnell was one of three players on the field – along with Newcastle pair Kurt Gidley and James McManus – to be picked in the New South Wales State of Origin side that was named at half-time although there wasn’t much to smile about for the latter pair despite a promising start to the game.
On three separate occasions Newcastle came within inches of scoring crucial tries but lady luck wasn’t on their side.
Instead it was the Cowboys making the most of their opportunities; tries either side of the half-time break to Steve Southern and Matthew Scott, which pushed the score to 24-6, quickly settled what had earlier been a fascinating contest.
O’Donnell celebrated his Origin selection with a typically blockbusting run to score midway through the second half while Thurston showed his class with a solo effort soon after.
The Game Swung When… Steve Southern crossed for a try in the 28th minute.
Only moments earlier Newcastle flyer Akuila Uate was miraculously ankle-tapped by Kaufusi when seemingly away with two players in support – his arm hitting the touchline as he tried to pass inside – but rather than level the scores it was North Queensland crossing at the other end from the ensuing set to take an 18-6 lead into the half-time break.
Who Was Hot… North Queensland’s forwards made plenty of metres through the middle – with Shane Tronc, Matthew Scott and Luke O’Donnell all topping 100 metres – while they forced plenty of errors from the Knights with some bone-jarring defence.
Thurston and hooker Aaron Payne were also at their usual scheming best.
Who Was Not… It was a surprisingly quiet night for fullback and newly appointed NSW captain Kurt Gidley while exciting wingers Uate and McManus also made some uncharacteristic errors.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Newcastle must be cursing a series of close calls that could have changed the complexion of the game – namely an ankle-tap by Cowboys prop Antonio Kaufusi that brought Akuila Uate down when he seemed certain to set up a try.
James McManus also dropped the ball over the tryline just inches above the ground in the 34th minute and spilled a bomb he seemed to have his clutches on right on the half-time break.
Injuries… Travis Burns (Cowboys) – knee; 3-5 weeks.
Refs Watch… The marginal decisions seemed to go North Queensland’s way but, thankfully, referees Ben Cummins and Alan Shortall had no impact on how this one played out.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Luke O’Donnell (Cowboys): Scored a try, ran for 102 metres and pulled off a series of telling hits throughout the game; 2 points – Aaron Payne (Cowboys): Set up Steve Southern’s crucial try late in the first half and was a constant menace around the ruck; 1 point – Matthew Scott (Cowboys): Took a no-nonsense approach up the middle when it was needed most and ran for a team-high 122 metres.
Cowboys 36 (T Burns, J Williams, S Southern, A Kaufusi, L O’Donnell, J Thurston tries; J Thurston 6 goals) def Knights 10 (C Houston, A Uate tries; K Gidley goal) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Crowd: 11,892.