NYC Sea Eagles eliminate wasteful Cowboys
Manly have produced the biggest upset of this year's Holden Cup finals series with a 30-16 win over the fifth-placed Cowboys who were well below par despite being boosted by the inclusion of Kalyn Ponga from a rotator cuff injury.
Having snuck into the playoffs by just seven points on for and against, the Sea Eagles made the most of their good fortune to book a place in Week Two of the finals while North Queensland will be left wondering what could have been after they fumbled and bumbled their way through a game they were tipped to win.
The Sea Eagles should have opened the scoring inside the opening three minutes but came up empty-handed when winger Alfred Smalley failed to ground a bouncing ball in the in-goal.
It looked to have been a costly miss when Cowboys hooker Calum Gahan darted out from close range to score next to the posts, only for the officials to rule out his effort for obstruction.
The Sea Eagles were dealt a huge blow midway through the first half when fullback Jade Anderson limped off with an ankle injury and things got worse for Wayne Lambkin's men when Cowboys halfback Jake Clifford ran the ball on the last tackle and was rewarded with the game's first try.
North Queensland's lead barely lasted five minutes when Tom Wright – who replaced Anderson at the back – did it all himself from a scrum to score virtually untouched next to the posts.
Things were suddenly looking up for the Sea Eagles who hit the front when Cade Cust played short to a rampaging Haumole Olakau'atu who barged over to make it back-to-back tries to give his side a 12-6 advantage at the break.
Having been kept quiet in the first half, Ponga finally injected himself into the contest when he shot to the shortside on the last tackle and put in an outstanding grubber that was pounced on by teammate Murray Taulagi.
Just when it looked like the pre-game favourites had worked their way back into the contest, winger Michael Carroll came up with a howler at the back that allowed Tevita Funa to score the easiest try of his career to make it 16-10.
The Cowboys should have drawn level minutes later but were again forced to rue a costly mistake as Clifford lost control of the ball as he reached out to score what would have been his second try of the afternoon.
Mistakes like that don't cut it in the finals and Manly made their opponents pay when Bilal Maarbani reeled in a cross-field kick from Cust to give his side a 10-point cushion before Funa backed up a midfield break to seal the result with 15 minutes to play.
Cowboys five-eighth Mitch Dunn gave his side a glimmer of hope when he dummied his way through from close range but in the end the weight of errors caught up with North Queensland who were bundled out of the finals series when Blake Andrews intercepted a short kick to seal their fate.
Sea Eagles 30 (Tevita Funa 2, Tom Wright, Haumole Olakau'atu, Bilal Maarbani, Blake Andrews tries; Tevita Funa 3 goals) def. Cowboys 16 (Jake Clifford, Murray Taulagi, Mitch Dunn tries; Jake Clifford 2 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Half-time: 12-6.