Clinical Cowboys put Manly to the sword
The Cowboys cruised along in second gear for much of their 34-18 win over Manly at Brookvale Oval but were still comfortable victors over an injury-ravaged home side which nevertheless put up a better fight in defence than the final score indicated.
A few errors and penalties at the wrong time gave the visitors field position in the first half and they took advantage in a three-try burst where Manly didn't touch the ball and despite a sluggish period in the second half where their execution fell away, the North Queenslanders kicked away again to complete the rout.
Both halves, Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan, turned on masterclasses in controlling a game of rugby league while their middle forwards – most notably Jason Taumalolo and James Tamou – were typically irrepressible.
Manly's third-choice fullback Dylan Walker had a tough night at the back after Brett Stewart and Tom Trbojevic were ruled out with injury and he appeared to struggle with injury himself before finally being pulled from the field with just over 20 minutes remaining while Daly Cherry-Evans and Matt Parcell provided occasional bright spots for the home side.
Matt Wright, rushed into first grade on the wing for Manly after only arriving from Townsville during the week, tried hard with limited opportunity but wasn't given an easy time by his erstwhile teammates.
Former Warrior Pita Godinet was called into first grade at five-eighth as a result of Manly's heavy injury toll and finished the game at fullback from where he provided some impetus and both started and finished a wonderful team try in the dying minutes and was close to his side's best on the night.
The match had, improbably, almost started in perfect fashion for the home side when a charge down at the end of the first set followed by a couple of toe-ahead kicks almost saw the returning Matt Parcell score but the Cowboys scrambled well.
A few consecutive sets from both sides were finished by poor kicks that saw seven-tackle restarts but it was Manly that crumbled first.
One such seven-tackle restart for the visitors was compounded by a hand-on-ball penalty against Daly Cherry-Evans and a perfect Michael Morgan pass saw Kyle Feldt open the scoring with a now-routine spectacular put-down just inside the corner post.
A high tackle penalty against Darcy Lussick from the restart piggy-backed the premiers back into the danger zone and a wicked bounce from a Thurston grubber and great awareness from Feldt saw the Origin hopeful bag his double in just the 16th minute.
It became three tries without Manly so much as touching the ball when another hand-on-ball penalty helped the Cowboys back in range and this time some seriously slick ball movement from virtually the entire on-field 13 from the right touch-line to the left ended in Antonio Winterstein sliding over.
A rare error from the visitors finally gave the home fans some respite and a well-weighted Cherry-Evans grubber helped skipper Jamie Lyon get his team on the board but normal service resumed with a searing Michael Morgan run down the right edge to earn his side a 22-6 advantage at the break on the back of a 66 per cent possession rate in the opening 40 minutes.
The second half started with a noticeable drop in intensity and the Cowboys were at one stage on the wrong end of a 6-1 run of penalties to dent their attacking opportunities.
It took until the 62nd minute to add to the score when a wraparound finally saw Gavin Cooper cross after some good try-savers had denied him in the first half and when a wonderful switch-back pass from Thurston six minutes later saw Kane Linnett cross the fans started heading for the turnstiles.
Those that left early missed some late enterprising play from the home team with Cherry-Evans scooping up a grubber that hit the posts before Godinet burst through a gap off a Siosaia Vave short ball to streak downfield, link with Jake Trbojevic then race through to dive on the lock forward's grubber to close the final margin of the loss to 16 points.
North Queensland Cowboys 34 (Feldt 2, Morgan, Winterstein, Cooper, Linnetttries; Thurston 5 goals) defeated Manly Sea Eagles 18 (Lyon, Cherry-Evans, Godinet tries; Lyon 3 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Half time: Cowboys 22-6. Crowd 11,734.