An injury-ravaged Manly side that started with players out of position (and a winger that had only signed with the club days earlier) wasn't expected to trouble the red-hot premiers but put up a fair fight and was left to rue some ill-timed errors and penalties after their 34-18 loss.
Jamie Lyon deserves "BAFTA, Golden Globe, Academy Award" nomination
Not for the first time this year, interpretation of the obstruction rule was a hot topic at a post-match press conference.
Minimal contact from Kane Linnett on Jamie Lyon in the 51st minute led to a no-try call for Lachlan Coote, with the Manly skipper hitting the turf fairly readily in the view of commentator Andrew Voss (the touch "wouldn't have knocked the maggot off a chop" was his somewhat graphic elaboration) and Cowboys coach Paul Green also provided some headline-worthy quotes when asked his view.
"I reckon Jamie Lyon should be nominated for a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award. I know 'Killer' well, he's a good bloke but that was one of his best," Green said after the game.
"I just think everyone's a bit confused about the obstruction rule. We've got a coach's meeting this week so I'm sure that will be on the agenda there.
"I think there needs to be discretion in all seriousness when they're looking at tries. I don't think there can be black and white so there needs to be some sort of football intellect should come into it or common sense if you like. I don't agree that every one's black and white."
Both Green and skipper Johnathan Thurston lamented that such discussions were taking focus away from the fact that some top-shelf football is being played. The lack of consistency was frustrating, he added.
"It frustrates me as a coach, I'm sure it frustrates the fans and supporters, I know it definitely frustrates the players so if we can all get some common ground about it and some common sense that would be a good thing," he said.
Lyon appeared to concede he was in fact taking advantage of the way the rule is currently interpreted.
"Probably went down but as the rules go, sometimes you get them sometimes you don't I suppose," Lyon said.
Matt Wright's serendipitous debut
It could have been a happier debut in terms of the result or if he had scored against his old club but as it is, it's just one of those curious rugby league subplots. Shark-turned Cowboy Matthew Wright, unable to crack a spot in North Queensland's set-and-forget first grade roster, put the feelers out for a new club.
He joined a team being coached by one of his old Cronulla teammates, put pen to paper and was playing the team he just left five days after getting off the plane.
"I just thought I'd get a new club and it worked out I came here to Manly," Wright told NRL.com after the game.
"It was a quick process, they wanted me so I put pen to paper.
"Pretty much [I on a plane and training the next day] and straight into it. It was a bit rusty for my first game so hopefully I can improve on that."
Five tackles and 57 metres was a relatively quiet outing but Wright was pleased to be back in first grade – even if he was on the wrong end of a big shot from former teammate Jason Taumalolo.
"I sorted of slipped and he got me good but it was all right," Wright said in laughing off the hit.
Barrett hopeful fullback conundrum will be sorted by next game
Manly coach Trent Barrett is hopeful first choice fullback Brett Stewart will be available in a fortnight after rep round when the team hosts the Broncos. Second choice custodian Tom Trbojevic is some weeks away while utility playmaker Api Koroisau should also be available – along with five-eighth Dylan Walker, whose spell as stand-in fullback lasted just under 60 minutes due to hip and rib complaints.
"'Snake' [Stewart] should be right for Brisbane hopefully, Tommy Trbojevic no. Api probably for Brisbane. We need this week off obviously. That's the last of our five day turnarounds which is really good, we can get them back on deck and fix a few things," Barrett said.
Of Walker he added: "He'll be ok. He needs the rest, I think he's got a hip problem and rib problem but he'll be ok in a fortnight."
Walker certainly didn't disgrace himself at the back but it's clearly not his preferred position. His absence forced Pita Godinet – the former Warriors reserve half and hooker who was more recently let go by the Wakefield Wildcats – to spend the final 20 minutes of his club debut at the back, from where he finished off an impressive team try to complete a memorable club debut.
Cowboys start clinical but let the pressure off
Cowboys coach Paul Green was happy with his team's clinical first half but felt they should have done more to close out the game in a second half where they gave away too many penalties to keep Manly in with a sniff.
"At different times we were clinical for most of that game, I think we had three or four tries disallowed too so that could have really changed the context of the game," he said.
"I was a little bit disappointed in our second-half effort. I thought we worked really hard and absorbed at the start of that second half we did really well, they had a heap ball and field position down our line and we managed to hold them out so once we got through that period I was hoping we could finish them off so to speak but we just probably lacked a little bit of that ruthless mentality there at the end. I thought we probably put the cue in the rack a little bit early."
Green said the fact so many players are likely or certain to be playing games in next weekend's Representative Round may have been playing on their minds.
"It was a tough game for everyone to prepare for given that everyone knows they're potentially playing next weekend and they've got to get through that game so mentally I think that showed, particularly in the second half for us. As players, some of them thought we had the game locked up and let's get this over and done with and let's move on to next week," he said.
Effort there for Manly but Barrett rues not asking Cowboys enough questions
Once again Barrett was left to reflect on a game where his players tried hard but a lack of execution at certain times meant a lack of pressure placed on their opponents.
Manly forced a dropout a minute into the game but coughed the ball up, then kicked the ball dead on their next two visits to the Cowboys red-zone before a series of penalties meant they conceded three tries back-to-back without touching the ball.
"I'm happy with our effort, I'll never doubt that. We were up against it with some of the changes we had but I still thought we had our chances," Barrett said.
"Maybe not to win it but to be in it. The first time we get down their end in good ball we came up with an error then had two kicks go dead then we had an 18 minute period we didn't get the ball and it was 22-zip.
"Second half, same thing – back in the game and came up with four good-ball errors. Just giving penalties away in our half, we didn't make the Cowboys earn too much I thought and that's the most disappointing thing for us."
Barrett said it was just disappointing not to make the Cowboys have to earn their points.
"There were a couple of sets there that we had and they looked a bit tired and we had them on the ropes but we'd turn the ball over or give away another penalty so again, I don't think we made them work real hard for anything," he said.
"They're the premiers for a reason and to beat them you have to get 50-50 of the footy and hang on to the ball and we didn't do it."