The Manly Sea Eagles staged a comeback midway through the second half to hold on and defeat the North Queensland Cowboys 22-20 in a see-sawing affair on Saturday night in Townsville.
There was more bad news for the Cowboys with injuries to forwards Mitch Dunn and Jordan McLean, adding to an already crowded casualty ward at the club. Dunn was stretchered off in the 65th minute after contesting for the ball and landing awkwardly on his shoulder, and McLean came off clutching at his left leg four minutes later and went straight up the tunnel.
McLean's injury would also have sent a shiver through NSW coach Brad Fittler as he watched one of his options to replace David Klemmer walk up the tunnel early.
The opening exchanges of the game were evenly matched, however last-play options and errors cruelled it for both sides killing off any sort of momentum for the first 20 minutes.
The home side opened the scoring through a Jake Clifford penalty goal before Manly grabbed the game's first try through Curtis Sironen off the back of repeat sets. Reuben Garrick added the extras to extend the lead 6-2.
Match: Cowboys v Sea Eagles
Round 13 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
A mistake by Dunn 10 metres from the Cowboys' line gave the Sea Eagles another scoring chance and they took it, Cade Cust sending Joel Thompson over for a 12-2 lead after half an hour.
The tide finally turned for the Cowboys seven minutes out from half-time, when Michael Morgan shot a cut-out pass to Kyle Feldt who showed some acrobatic brilliance by scoring a magnificent try in the corner. Jake Clifford added two points to close the gap by four.
McLean leaves field with hamstring injury
The surge continued for the Cowboys when a Thompson penalty put them within striking distance again. Morgan kicked across field to find a soaring Feldt, who was able to flick it back on the inside to an unmarked Tom Opacic. Clifford was able to extend the Cowboys lead and put them in front for the first time in the game.
The Cowboys weren't done yet, with a Tom Trbojevic turnover leading to a Francis Molo try – North Queensland going into the break with a shock 20-12 lead.
Manly had to be next to score after the break, and they did that five minutes into the second half when Jorge Taufua scored down the left.
Taufua flattens White
The Cowboys looked to respond in the 50th minute, but Scott Bolton was held back by Manly's Jack Gosiewski, who was sin-binned for a professional foul. Five minutes later Reuben Cotter, who made his NRL debut for the Cowboys, was denied a try after an obstruction call was made against Shane Wright.
Back down the other end of the field Manly hit the front when Daly Cherry-Evans set up Cade Cust, with Garrick's goal edging the visitors ahead 22-20.
The Cowboys had their chances to stage a comeback in the final few minutes of the game but were unable to capitalise due to handling errors.