Kick-starting the penultimate round of the Telstra Premiership regular season, the Cowboys' 24-16 win over the Bulldogs at Belmore Sportsground on Thursday night had more storylines than just the away side leaving Sydney with the two competition points.
Cowboys leapfrog Bulldogs into top four
The Cowboys' eight-point win not only saw them join the Bulldogs on 32 competition points but overtake them on the ladder – thanks to points differential – into the top four. Bulldogs coach Des Hasler all but conceded his team will struggle to reclaim their previous positioning following their loss. North Queensland coach Paul Green, on the contrary, refused to get carried away with his club's spot on the ladder. The Cowboys ended a three-game losing run only last weekend with a 34-6 win over the Warriors which has surely left Green equally cautious as he is focused on the Titans come Saturday week.
"It was one of our tougher wins of the year particularly with everything that was on the line," Green said following the match.
Thurston again plays chief destroyer
The Cowboys have had a rollercoaster of a season so far, but one thing which has remained steady is the form of co-captain Johnathan Thurston. The ex-Bulldog was at his very best throughout his homecoming (of sorts). While the Cowboys only managed to score once in the first half, at one point Thurston orchestrated six consecutive sets on the Bulldogs try-line. 10 minutes into the second half, Thurston finally cracked the Bulldogs defence by slicing in between Danny Fualalo and Tony Williams before sending over teammate Ethan Lowe over for his second try of the game.
When it rains, it pours…
Greg Eastwood hadn't scored a try all season before his amazing effort 10 minutes into the Bulldogs clash with the Cowboys. That all changed when the 112 kilogram back-rower intercepted a Michael Morgan pass and charged 60 metres down field to score one of the year's more memorable tries. Eastwood's effort even included a side-step past Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote, which left him to admit he never looked for anyone in support.
"I guess all I was thinking was just 'get to the line'. I was hoping nobody was chasing but sure enough the fast guys were on my back," Eastwood said, who scored again in the final minute.
"So I was happy to get over. I saw Josh [Reynolds] following me but I was never going to pass it. I was lucky to get past [Lachlan Coote] but I was happy to get over for my first try of the year."
North Queensland forwards stick it to Dogs
North Queensland's outside backs weren't utilised much and they weren't really needed considering all four of their tries came from the Cowboys' back row. Lowe's brace, Coen Hess's effort midway through the second half and Jason Taumalolo's charging try in the final minutes proved the difference against the Bulldogs. Green said it was all part of the plan.
"It was one of those nights where we knew the big shift plays probably weren't going to be what broke their line," Green said. "Our forwards were the ones which benefited from that."
Belmore Sportsground burden?
Every time the Bulldogs have played at Belmore Sportsground since their highly-anticipated return to their spiritual home last year, they have been expected to put on a show. But they didn't, and they haven't done so in their past three visits. Only Eastwood's runaway effort sent Belmore into raptures on a cold winter's night. If and when the Bulldogs continue to host games at the venue in 2017, they'll need to be ruthless in their efforts to reignite a winning feeling surrounding the occasion.