It’s all but curtains for North Queensland in 2009 after they surrendered a 14-point half-time lead to ultimately lose to Newcastle.
The Cowboys faded fast to the Knights who themselves took a further step towards confirming a top-eight finish.
North Queensland must now win their final two matches and rely on other results to salvage a finals reprieve.
But realistically it’s all over bar the shouting for the Cowboys, who have been a disappointment in 2009.
Newcastle gave new coach Rick Stone and their devoted fan base a severe migraine heading into the break, but a sublime second-half performance by halfback Jarrod Mullen saw the Knights pull off one of the year’s great comebacks.
As they’ve shown on many occasions this season, Newcastle was almost unstoppable once they got on a roll. The home side has given up leads often this year, but this time they showed they’re capable of coming home strong.
After looking dead and buried a couple of weeks ago as they wavered under then coach, Brian Smith, Newcastle all of a sudden look destined to play finals football.
Barring another lapse in form, the bookies will have the Knights favourites to defeat both the Raiders and Penrith in their run home and possibly finish as high as fourth on the ladder.
As the home fans have proven over the past two weeks – the Newcastle Knights with a home semi-final is a formidable prospect.
The Game Swung When… This match was literally a game of two halves. The turning point was when hard-working hooker Isaac De Gois made an incision down the blindside shortly after oranges. His inspired dart directly led to veteran centre Adam MacDougall crossing for his second try eight minutes into the second term to kick-start the Knights’ rebirth.
The Cowboys’ lead was cut to eight and when Chris Houston ran onto a pristine Jarrod Mullen dab it became 22-20 and the Knights were suddenly in control.
Who Was Hot… Mullen played arguably the best 40 minutes of his career in the second half to steer the Knights to victory. The man wearing Andrew Johns’ jersey set up three tries, scored one sizzler himself, offloaded twice, made three line breaks, nine tackle breaks and ran for 123 metres in a masterful display.
His 75-metre dash for the line in the 62nd minute was the game highlight and Newcastle weren’t going to get beaten from there.
De Gois was excellent all match, with his dynamic display featuring a try assist, an offload, two tackle breaks, a line break, 27 tackles and 82 metres gained from eight runs.
Johnathan Thurston and Anthony Watts showed plenty of spark for the Cowboys. JT scored a double, set up a try, offloaded and broke the line. And Watts was always scheming and scored a brilliant solo try from a chip kick in the first half.
Who Was Not… Thurston and Watts didn’t get much help from their team-mates, who lacked creativity and a backbone under pressure.
Knights winger Cooper Vuna gave Cows’ centre Ashley Graham nightmares throughout the game. Graham, not long back from injury, missed six tackles and was targeted all match.
Former rep player Carl Webb (56 metres from eight runs, 12 tackles and two errors) was soft in the middle for North Queensland; coach Neil Henry needed more thrust from him.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… It counted for little in the end, but Thurston scored a try in the first half that beggared belief.
The Cowboys had just received a penalty right on Newcastle’s goal-line for interference on Ty Williams. Thurston pointed to the sideline but said nothing. His gesture was a dummy, for while the Knights expected him to kick into touch, Thurston simply tapped the ball on his foot and dived over the line from two metres out without a hand placed on him. Newcastle stood flat-footed, while the crowd was flabbergasted. It was a once-in-a-season moment.
Injuries… Matt Bowen left the field early in the second half and didn’t return. The exciting fullback seems hampered by a leg injury and is in doubt for this week’s match against Brisbane.
Bad Boys… Adam MacDougall was placed on report for a high tackle on Ashley Graham late in the second half, but escaped further action.
Refs Watch… Jason Robinson and Ashley Klein sat back and let a topsy-turvy match of football run its course. No complaints.
NRL.com Best & Fairest: 3 points – Jarrod Mullen (Knights): One of the dominant performances of the year, Mullen absolutely carved up for all the fantasy league football fans out there; 2 points – Isaac De Gois (Knights): The crafty hooker continues to prove himself as buy-of-the-year material. His energy and work ethic was crucial to their victory; 1 – Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys): Outstanding first half, would have been man of the match had his team-mates helped him out in the second half.
Knights 32 (A MacDougall 2, C Houston, J Mullen, W Naiqama tries; K Gidley 6 goals) def Cowboys 26 (J Thurston 2, M Bani, W Tonga, A Watts tries; Thurston 3 goals) at EnergyAustralia Stadium. Crowd: 15,408.