Classy Cowboys too good for Souths
The Cowboys machine rolled on in their 44-18 drubbing of South Sydney, and it was a downright scary sight for the rest of the Telstra Premiership.
The reigning premiers showed it all against a hapless Bunnies side that has lost four of their past five, and will sweat on the health of star Greg Inglis after the fullback left the field with apparent concussion symptoms in the second half.
Justin O'Neill bagged a brace in his 100th NRL game, but the decision over the three Dally M points will not be an easy one, with Lachlan Coote, Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan all having huge nights.
Both sides packed a lot of football into a high-quality first half.
The Cowboys earned early ascendency, with a solid shot from Matt Scott forcing a Kirisome Auva'a error deep in Souths territory on just the third set of the game.
The Bunnies could not reel in Thurston's cross-field chip kick and Jake Granville made them pay for the second chance when he drifted across to pick out Gavin Cooper on his inside, slicing through a hole for first points.
But the home side seemed to relax on the back of their early points. Their line speed was non-existent and the Rabbitohs hit back less than five minutes later after Scott was whacked with a ruck penalty.
Crafty Rabbitohs five-eighth Luke Keary hit Townsville's own Chris Gresmuhl for a try next to the sticks and it seemed the visitors had found their feet.
The Cowboys continued their slumber around the ruck, allowing Souths to isolate defenders on hit-ups. But it was fool's gold, as Adam Reynolds misjudged a low kick to hand the Cowboys a momentum-shifting seven-tackle set.
Antonio Winterstein instantly swung the game on a single hit-up, marching up the field with a strong 15-metre run off the restart, and 30 seconds later Thurston was in the red zone sniffing the Cowboys' second try.
The maestro made it happen all himself, latching on to his own chip kick for his first of the year.
With three tries from just four goal-line raids to start the game, both defences offered very little resistance. However, Scott changed that with his second bone-rattler of the night and his men followed the lead.
They rolled up the field with ease and Thurston had the crosshairs locked on the Bunnies' left side, with every single high kick aimed at the Auva'a-Goodwin edge.
In-demand Cowboy Lachlan Coote did his bargaining position no harm with one of the plays of the night – winning a 40-metre sprint race with Aaron Gray off Adam Reynolds' 'go fetch' kick after Keary snuck into the backfield to force a broken play.
O'Neill took advantage of a loose Souths left side to cross for the Cowboys' third try, a they went to half-time up 18-6.
The relentless Cowboys did not skip a beat out of the break, with two headliners combining for some sizzling backline movement the pace of which cannot be matched by many.
His name has been floated as a potential Test bolter and Morgan did his case no harm with a scorching cut-out ball at pace to hit Maroons firmer Kyle Feldt along the touchline in stride.
Meanwhile the visitors' night was turning sourer by the minute as Sam Burgess became the latest Rabbitoh adding to the error column.
Up 16-6 the home side started to force the action about half an hour out from time, with some errant passes in tight quarters bringing about consecutive knock-ons.
But as four Cowboys denied Goodwin in the corner, Souths' confidence took the final blow.
It was over 25 minutes from time when Ethan Lowe bagged his customary home-ground try off a fast-break, while Winterstein's try fell in his lap as Souths could not secure another chip kick.
The Cowboys juggernaut had the half century in their sights 15 minutes from full-time after O'Neill's second of the night.
Souths' night went from bad to worse when star fullback Inglis left the field with apparent concussion symptoms after being hit up high by Scott on a kick return.
Both sides traded tries late in the game when Thurston made a meal of a grubber kick and Sam Burgess swooped, while Morgan barged through untouched under the sticks off a well-executed set play between Granville and Thurston.
In a well-beaten side the returning Reynolds got an intercept try, picking off Jason Taumalolo's second-man pass to Thurston and running 50 metres.
The Cowboys stay put, hosting the Eels next week while Souths have some soul-searching ahead of next Friday's Broncos showdown at Suncorp Stadium.
North Queensland Cowboys 44 (Justin O'Neill 2, Gavin Cooper, Johnathan Thurston, Kyle Feldt, Ethan Lowe, Antonio Winterstein, Michael Morgan tries; Johnathan Thurston 6 goals) def. South Sydney Rabbitohs 18 (Chris Grevsmuhl, Sam Burgess, Adam Reynolds tries; Adam Reynolds 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium. Half-time: Cowboys 18-6. Crowd: 15,487. Holden Cup: Rabbitohs 34-18. On Report: Hymel Hunt (South Sydney, high contact – swinging arm).