Cowboys crush Manly to surge into top four

North Queensland have added another scalp to the collection, dispersing of the Manly Sea Eagles in a 30-16 domination on Saturday night. It was party time for the final 15 minutes as the Cowboys' season-best crowd of 22,521 made season-best noise as their team claimed another big scalp ahead of next week's finals series.


North Queenslanders far and wide will gather in front of their television sets at around 6.30 on Sunday evening as they eagerly await the outcome of the Panthers-Warriors clash at Sportingbet Stadium. 

A Warriors win would hand the northerners their second-ever top four finish, while a win to Penrith would see the Panthers grab fourth spot and a crucial second chance in the finals.

Regardless of how the top eight finishes up, the Cowboys will take some well-earned confidence into the business end of the season having now beaten six of the eight NRL finalists in 2014.

Manly missed the impact of star fullback Brett Stewart, who failed a fitness test on Saturday for a rolled ankle suffered in their final training session, with Clinton Gutherson called into the side.

In a first half owned by Cowboys props Matt Scott (89 metres) and Ashton Sims (73), Manly were put under the pump just two minutes in when Thurston placed an inch-perfect bomb a metre in from both the touch and try lines, with Antonio Winterstein forcing Manly winger Peta Hiku into the in-goal.

After Thurston gave the home side an early two-point lead with a penalty goal following an Anthony Watmough ruck infringement, it was the visitors who registered the game's first try. Signs were indeed ominous for the Cowboys early when Manly ran their first left-side raid to perfection. 

Armed with double block runners, the left edge that proved so fruitful last time these two faced off in Round 7 (when all of their 26 points came on the left) looked to have not missed a beat in the absence of injured lock forward Jamie Buhrer. Foran at first receiver threw a double cut-out ball to replacement fullback Clinton Gutherson who found an unmarked Matai for the easiest of tries.

The Cowboys would then take over the first half, building pressure after Daly Cherry-Evans sprayed a torpedo bomb from the 40-metre line out on the full.

With the Cowboys on the attack, Taufua didn't help his side's cause when Lui hoisted a skyscraper, overrunning it and knocking on in the red zone.

There was no doubting the intensity from either side – or that of Manly coach Geoff Toovey, who had his right fist to the glass window of the coaches' box by the 12-minute mark. But the Cowboys lacked a touch of polish early on with Thurston uncharacteristically blowing two chances with long cut-out balls to winger Winterstein.

But it was third time lucky for Winterstein, with the Cowboys this time working it through hands. Out of dummy half, Kostjasyn drifted left, holding to Thurston who cut out Scott, before the ball went through hands for an easy put-down and a career-best 15 tries in a season for Winterstein.

Ten minutes later it was deja vu from the Round 7 meeting, this time facilitated by right-side half Lui, when a booming bomb had Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt channelling AFL star Buddy Franklin to mark uncontested over the goal line.

And another 10 minutes later Linnett showed the benefits of a 6'4", 103kg frame by busting through a desperate covering effort by Cherry-Evans in the right corner to have the home side up 18-4 at the break. Thurston's conversion racked up his 204th point of the campaign and another record was added to his storied career – a personal best for points scored in a season.

The home side built pressure again straight out of the sheds after an ill-disciplined Manly ruck penalty on the first set. Feldt then bagged a second try on a great right side shift. Out of dummy half, Thompson played one-two with Scott, cutting out Lui and Moga, making the easy pass to Feldt sprinting for the corner.

Manly kept themselves in the contest on a simple Foran simple short ball for Horo who barged over, but Robert Lui's solo effort calmed the nerves of the near-capacity crowd.

Going right, Lui got to the outside of a slow-sliding Manly defence and put on a vicious right foot step to split a flatfooted Lyon and Horo for a simple try to the right of the sticks.

Manly's effort was never in question for the duration of the contest, and they were rewarded with a consolation try just two minutes before full-time, with Jorge Taufua breaking clear down the left flank before finding Gutherson for a length-of-the-field effort.

Cowboys 30 (Feldt 2, Winterstein, Linnett, Lui tries; Thurston 5 goals) defeated Sea Eagles 16 (Matai, Horo, Gutherson tries; Lyon 2 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 22,521