Cowboys hold on to beat fast-finishing Souths
The North Queensland Cowboys survived a scoreless second half to hang on by the skin of their teeth in a morale-boosting 20-18 win in front of 15,897 fans.
The northerners opened with a flurry of scoring but the second half was dedicated to defence as they staved off a hungry Souths pack.
Johnathan Thurston was in seventh heaven after his move to halfback, responding emphatically after a recent spate of poor form to have a hand in the first three tries to help the hosts to a 14-0 lead after 10 minutes.
On their very first touch of the footy, North Queensland struck gold through a perfectly weighted crossfield kick from Thurston.
Making use of Curtis Rona's 195cm frame, Thurston put it right on the head of a helpless Nathan Merritt who waited an age only to be monstered at the last second by Rona who tapped it inside to Wright untouched.
It was on again five minutes later when Thurston threw a copybook face-ball close to the line to a charging Tariq Sims.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when Adam Reynolds sailed his restart out on the full, and off the ensuing penalty the Cowboys were through again, in all too easy fashion.
On a simple second-man play, Thurston drew the attention of three Souths defenders, leaving them flatfooted and out of position. He found Linnett who dumped it off to Winterstein on the overlap, going on to beat a flying cover tackle from Greg Inglis.
It took 15 minutes for Souths to put an imprint on the contest, when a perfectly weighted Adam Reynolds bomb had Winterstein straddling the goal line and dropping it cold.
While nothing came of it, the diminutive halfback got the high ball working from then on, forcing three errors from his high kicks – two from Winterstein and one from an otherwise spectacular Thurston.
The Bunnies were in after 20 minutes when a well-weighted Reynolds grubber was put on the chest of a flying Chris McQueen.
Reynolds slotted the conversion to equal the all-time NRL record for scoring in consecutive games (68).
Just as the tide looked to be turning, the Cowboys found the white line once more through more Rona magic.
Straight out of dummy half, Michael Morgan dashed blind side and put it to the boot right into the path of Rona who showed the kind of athleticism that would have Bulldogs fans potentially salivating after recent rumours of a potential move south. A freakish flick back facilitated Wright for his second.
From then, the first half got chippy until tempers boiled over between forwards Sam Burgess and Ashton Sims. While no one was reported, the Cowboys forfeited possession, much to the displeasure of the more vocal than usual crowd.
The Rabbitohs looked a different side coming out of the sheds, with birthday boy Jason Clark celebrating his 25th in style with a bulldozing effort under the sticks to bring the margin back to 20-12.
The next scoring play came with 15 minutes to go when Souths finally capitalised on their solid field position to score. A Reynolds inside ball to Inglis broke the line wide open, only to be cut down by Morgan in another try saver. On the next play, Sutton tapped a perfect three-metre grubber kick straight into Inglis's lap and the margin was just two after Reynolds slotted the conversion.
But that was the night's end for the scorekeepers as the Cowboys fended off raid after raid from a more fired-up South Sydney.
Cowboys 20 (Wright 2, T. Sims, Winterstein tries; Thurston 2 goals) defeated Rabbitohs 18 (McQueen, Clark, Inglis tries; Reynolds 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 15,897.