Johnathan Thurston gave his home fans a 45-minute clinic before succumbing to a hamstring injury on Thursday night, but the result was already in the bag by then. The Dogs tried a few things to trouble the home side but nothing seemed to work, as they completed at just 63 per cent.
No Origin hangover for Thurston
The body may be ageing, but the mind and the skills are only getting sharper. Thurston gave his side shape and the kind of kicking prowess that would have any top-grade halfback clamouring for a one-on-one tutorial, but the game's most mesmerising play came midway through the first half.
It was on the fifth tackle 20 metres out from the Dogs' line on the right-hand side, and in the space of just two seconds Thurston thought kick, then draw-and-pass, then dummy and run, then after slicing through a half gap saw the only way to the tryline was to loop a pass over the head of Brett Morris, which he did so for the sweetest of try assists.
Knowing every single blade of grass on 1300SMILES Stadium, he forced four goal-line dropouts in the first half alone including a 50-metre kick that halted literally one roll before the dead-ball line.
Bulldogs' ad-lib play not enough to faze Cowboys
Two weeks ago Manly suggested second-phase play was the blueprint to beating the Cowboys, but the premiers quickly quelled that notion with a scrambling defensive effort that gave the Dogs just three legitimate attempts at the Cowboys' goal line.
The Dogs won the offload count 14-6 but that daring play showed in a completion rate of just 63 per cent – compared to the Cowboys' 85 per cent. The visitors failed to make a single line break over the 80 minutes.
Cowboys crowd senses the occasion
The finals are on the horizon and don't the Cowboys fans know it. Thursday night was a far cry from their biggest crowd of the year, but North Queensland's faithful cranked up the volume in big moments throughout the night.
The noise started, not with the first two tries, but when 'Dogzilla' Sam Kasiano took exception to Cowboys utility Rory Kostjasyn's kick pressure on Josh Reynolds. The visitors were awarded a penalty, but not before Kasiano rag-dolled Kostjasyn to the ground and had a small crack at Gavin Cooper. The emotive Kasiano continued to make himself a crowd target in the second half, slamming the ball into the turf after a forward pass was called against his side to cop a penalty.
On the back of their crowd, the Cowboys did not switch off after Thurston left the field in an ominous sign for the rest of the competition.
Dogs never hit a rhythm
The Bulldogs possess the biggest forward pack in the league, but played the wrong way on Thursday night. Early errors were made playing expansive football and did not cease despite a simpler, more direct game plan. Momentum is everything in rugby league and the Cowboys completely owned it for about 70 minutes, with only two Dogs forwards (James Graham and David Klemmer) reaching triple-figure run metres.
Bowen's best position may be on the wing
It is hard to see him crack a full-strength Cowboys team, but Javid Bowen may have given other potential suitors a look at his best playing position on Thursday, showing good pace, skills and ability to read and position himself under the high ball out wide.
He is no stranger to the wing spot, featuring prominently on the extremity for the Intrust Super Cup's Northern Pride, and was not afraid to run it back with pace at a mammoth Bulldogs defensive line. He also showed class in finishing his try.