It was simply a training run for the Cowboys as they went about their business in no spectacular fashion, yet recorded an eight-tries-to-three demolition of the Knights on Saturday night. Ray Thompson was superb in his 100th NRL game – all for the Cowboys – while the platform was laid early by a herculean post-Origin effort from Matt Scott and James Tamou. John Asiata probably had a career-best night, while the Knights showed some continued improvement in attack.
Ray Thompson shows his wares in 100th NRL game
The game followed the script perfectly, as Cowboys centurion Ray Thompson scored two tries and expertly filled the void of Michael Morgan who missed the game with a concussion suffered in Wednesday's State of Origin. Thompson's defensive instincts kicked in, as he made 23 tackles, while he was a threat with ball in hand, running for 75 metres.
Thompson has big shoes to fill in the Cowboys' other game without their Origin stars – Round 18 in Canberra – and his impressive display against the Knights would have instilled some much-needed confidence.
"He slotted in really well and had some nice touches," co-captain Johathan Thurston said post-game.
"It's great when we can bring someone into our squad and perform well."
Knights showed glimpses of improved attack
They scored three tries on the night – which was probably more than expected – and post-game Nathan Brown said his side had made some definite strides in attack. The highlight of their night was a slick backline movement which ended in a Jake Mamo try.
"Our attack has definitely improved a lot over the past few weeks. With the score what it was, some people might think that's a bit funny but I thought at times we did cause them some trouble with limited opportunity. There were times earlier in the year when we had a lot more opportunity and didn't do quite as well, but the guys are definitely finding our way in some certain areas which suits the team we have.
"We made some slight adjustments to some things we've tried to do at the start of the year and I think our halves have changed I think six times in a row just due to injuries."
Asiata a valuable ball-playing option
John Asiata proved his worth as a ball-player off the bench on Saturday. With increased minutes and responsibility planned over the Origin period, Asiata spent a month in the Intrust Super Cup recently to improve his match fitness. He was outstanding as a ball-playing forward off the bench, managing two try assists on top of 95 metres and 17 tackles. He showed on Saturday just why he deserves an interchange spot ahead of impressive young forward Patrick Kaufusi.
"He's got some silky skills, 'Johnny', and that's why he is in the team. His ability to pass the footy as a forward is pretty good and we saw that tonight," Green said.
"He has good timing, good tempo, and good awareness of what's going on around him too."
Knights putting in for one another
Not much is really expected of the Knights this year apart from one thing: effort. It is a concept the young players failed to grasp at the start of the year; they would too quickly drop their heads and go into their shells after an error. But things have changed in the three games since the season's low-point in Round 10.
They put forward a stout showing against Wests before taking Parramatta all the way last Monday. Saturday's scoreboard was probably reflective of the Cowboys' dominance, but coach Brown and captain Jeremy Smith were proud of their troops at full-time.
"We spoke about not giving up and keep fighting until the end and we showed that tonight; probably not on the scoreboard, but in ourselves," captain Jeremy Smith said.
Brown added: "Tonight it wasn't due to a lack of effort… I've got no issue with the effort we put in.
"We just couldn’t physically compete with them."
Cowboys forwards lead the charge after Origin
Matt Scott, James Tamou and Jason Taumalolo were physically dominant over Knights forwards Sam Mataora, Daniel Saifiti and Danny Levi in the first half. All three of the Cowboys' middle men had first stints over 30 minutes, which set up both a larger-than-usual production from the bench brigade and expedited recovery for what is guaranteed to be a gruelling Monday night against the Sharks next week.
"[Scott] and 'Jimmy' (Tamou) in particular – playing through the middle part of the field there – I thought their first stint was great," Green said.
"The plan was to stretch them out while they were feeling good and hopefully use them sparingly in the second half. Luckily it panned out that way, so they didn't play much in the second half. Which was good for them, it helped their recovery."