Cowboys thump Titans ahead of finals
North Queensland have made the most of their final game of the regular season, appearing to have answered some of the questions posed of them by coach Paul Green in a 42-12 demolition of Gold Coast in Townsville.
Green's message had been consistent ahead of the Titans game: put forward a consistent performance in all areas. And for the most part, the coach would have been pleased with what his side dished up.
Dummy-half Jake Granville ran riot with a two try assists and a four-pointer of his own in the 26-0 second-half rout.
The Cowboys came out showing great energy, forcing the visitors to kick from the 35 and 30-metre lines in the first two sets, while making two attacking kicks of their own.
But the Titans had the first real attacking chance, with second-rower Agnatius Paasi initially appearing to score one of the weirder tries all year after Cowboy Kyle Feldt stripped him of possession, with Paasi getting up and returning the favour and running to the Cowboys' end zone.
However Feldt was ruled to have stripped Paasi on the ground after the tackle was complete, with the try disallowed but the Titans handed a penalty.
At the end of the following set makeshift five-eighth Daniel Mortimer lofted a perfectly weighted kick for former North Queensland winger Kalifa Fai Fai Loa to swoop in and elevate for the grab over the head of Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill for the game's opening points.
Minutes later a flatfooted James Roberts made something from nothing with sheer pace, making Matt Scott and Jake Granville look lazy after picking up a loose ball. Slicing through both Cowboy defenders, Roberts found support in centre Brad Tighe who linked with fullback Josh Hoffman for the Titans' second try.
But the Cowboys quickly hit back when Granville spotted space, flicking to an isolated Ray Thompson who shrugged off Tighe for the Cowboys' first points.
The home side were in again thanks to a slice of luck when Mortimer rushed Thurston's kick, only to have it deflected off his knees and into the waiting arms of Lachlan Coote who snatched the reflex catch and linked with Linnett for a try.
Granville was proving a menace for Gold Coast with every touch of the ball close to the line, and the darting dummy-half had his hands all over the Cowboys' third try when three parts of the spine (Granville, Thurston and Coote) combined for Winterstein's first try since Round 22 at Cronulla.
After a Coote try three minutes into the second half, the game fell into a 20-minute funk highlighted by Cowboys' missed attacking opportunities and desperation defence on their own goal line, until Thurston fed Gavin Cooper for his ninth try of the year.
From then it became a procession as Granville grubbered to himself from close range and showed his burst of speed to beat the dead-ball line and flick back to Winterstein. The No.9 did it all himself for the next four-pointer, head-faking Ryan James and Matt White to slice through untouched from close range.
Interchange forward John Aiata's ball-playing was on show for the next, selecting Tamou who split White and Paasi for his first of the year, while Linnett bagged a second.
Had the home side not been so wasteful with conversions – going a collective 3-9 between Thurston, Feldt and Ethan Lowe – they would have cracked the half century.
While the Cowboys will feel good about themselves heading to Suncorp Stadium for finals action against the Broncos next week, the Titans will likely also find a source of relief in letting go of a tough 2015 season.
North Queensland Cowboys 42 (Antonio Winterstein 2, Kane Linnett 2, Ray Thompson, Lachlan Coote, Jake Granville, James Tamou tries; Johnathan Thurston 2 goals, Kyle Feldt goal) def Gold Coast Titans 12 (Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, Josh Hoffman tries; Kane Elgey 2 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Crowd: 16,977. Half-time: Cowboys 16-12. On Report: Luke Douglas (Titans, 58th minute)