Classy Cowboys overpower Titans in trial
February wins count for nothing, but North Queensland have shown they are ready to hit the ground running in 2015 with a dominant 30-10 win over Gold Coast in their trial match in Cairns on Saturday night.
The Cowboys looked fast and powerful throughout their final hit-out before the start of their season on March 7, with coach Paul Green's greatest headache appearing to be the final make-up of his 'spine' and how he fits a raft of big back-rowers into the one forward pack.
North Queensland looked polished in attack with Lachlan Coote at fullback and Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan in the halves in the opening half but were just as effective in the second term when Morgan made the move to fullback.
Green refused to declare who had the inside running to be named first on the team sheet for the clash with the Roosters in Round 1 but liked what he saw from Morgan in his first half stint at five-eighth.
"'Morgo' has played most of his footy up to this point in that five-eighth jersey. He's a smart kid, he knows his way around a footy field and whereever I play him he's certainly going to be an asset to the team," Green told reporters post-game. "His talk in defence in particular i thought was really good on that right edge and we certainly looked comfortable with him defending out there.
"There were plusses and minuses for both. I'll have a good look at the tape through the week and make some decisions around that but I thought both of them showed some good touches, both competed well and I've got some headaches on my hands there.
"I'll review the game closely, have a close look at some combinations, the plusses and minuses and have a chat with the boys."
Titans coach Neil Henry refused to use the dramas of the previous 24 hours for his side's loss that saw the successful return of both Nate Myles and Greg Bird for their first games of the year.
"That's not an excuse, we've trained well, we've had our whole pre-season, I thought it was a solid hitout," Henry said.
"You can see the difference between a side that is settled and they know what they are doing and we have a number of changes. They are one of the top contenders and they exposed us a couple of times.
"What contributed to it was our error rate, we made four or five errors in our own 40 and we paid the price.
"There is a bit to take out of that, when we control our possession, we need to be better defensively."
With James Tamou watching on from the sidelines yet still hopeful of being available for Round 1, co-captain Matt Scott made a successful return from shoulder surgery and worked well alongside Broncos recruit Ben Hannant in the front row.
The power of Jason Taumalolo in the middle of the ruck was next to frightening and allowed the Cowboys forwards to create wave upon wave of momentum which the Titans were unable to repel.
Given the events of the previous 24 hours, the Titans actually started purposefully but were unable to convert territory of the opening five minutes into points and in the 17th minute the Cowboys took advantage to cross first through Tautau Moga with a well-worked shift to the left close to the Titans line.
They almost went back-to-back when Justin O'Neill was held up over the line from the ensuing set of six and after repeated excursions into Titans territory the Cowboys came up with their second in rather fortuitous circumstances.
After a frantic piece of ball movement Thurston eventually put boot to ball, his piercing cross-field kick unable to be collected by the Titans defence and the ball falling into the lap of centre Matthew Wright who burst through two defenders to score.
The Titans crossed for their first try of the night in the 29th minute when Matt Srama burrowed over from dummy-half but when the old firm of Thurston and Gavin Cooper combined on the left edge three minutes from half-time the Cowboys had a 16-6 lead at the break.
The Cowboys started the second half with Morgan at fullback and Robert Lui partnering Thurston in the halves and soon picked up where they left off, making regular inroads into the Titans defence before scoring their fourth try of the night courtesy of a Jake Granville effort from close range.
Four minutes later Moga scored his second when a break from Matthew Wright saw the ball spun to the opposite side of the field from the next play and the Titans defence caught short, and when Kelepi Tanginoa powered over in the 69th minute the score had blown out to 32-6.
Thurston, Morgan and Cooper were all given early marks with the game well in hand as the Cowboys appeared to come through the encounter injury free, the only minor concern a low-grade hamstring strain to winger Antonio Winterstein.
The effort was there but execution lacking for the Titans although they looked their best when Aidan Sezer ran purposefully at the line and fullback contenders William Zillman and Josh Hoffman both had nice touches.
Hooker Kierran Moseley was the Titans player to come out of the clash with their reputation enhanced the most and must surely be favoured to be Neil Henry's first-choice No.9 in Round 1.
The only injury concern for the Titans was back-rower Eddy Pettybourne who limped from the field after copping a knock on his ankle midway through the second half while captain Nate Myles was rested in the second half after copping a 'burner' in his shoulder.
North Queensland Cowboys 30 (Tautau Moga 2, Matthew Wright, Gavin Cooper, Jake Granville, Kelepi Tanginoa tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals) def. Gold Coast Titans 10 (Matt Srama, Kevin Gordon tries; Aidan Sezer 1 goal) at Barlow Park, Cairns.