In a match that took many turns, it was the North Queensland Cowboys who came out 23-16 winners over the Bulldogs at 1300 Smiles Stadium tonight.
It was four tries to three at the end of 80 minutes, with a Michael Morgan double the highlight.
Lock forward Greg Eastwood was ruled out yesterday due to concussion that he ended up with after the ANZAC Test last weekend. Antonio Kaufusi came into the side on the interchange bench with Sam Kasiano moving into the starting side.
It was the Cowboys with all the early running and after having three disallowed tries prior, it wasn’t until the 30th minute that the 0-all deadlock was broken. Kane Linnett was smartly held up by the returning David Klemmer in the 17th minute whilst Ben Spina and Michael Morgan both had tries disallowed by the video referee.
It was a slick Morgan who simply had too much pace who opened the home side’s account. The five-eighth crabbed across field and just turned on the afterburners to get outside Josh Morris, to register the four-pointer. Johnathan Thurston had the kicking duties and converted from out wide to put the Cowboys in front 6-nil.
In what is a coach-killer, Moses Mbye was penalised at the back end of a set and the Cowboys were gifted a full set of six in the attacking zone. A number of quick play the balls put the blue and whites on the back foot and a swift pass from Morgan out to Matthew Wright put him and open space and the winger dived over to score the try. Thurston again hooked the ball over for the conversion, giving the home side a 12-nil lead after 39 minutes.
There was enough time for just two tackles to be made with the scoreboard reading 12-nil as the half-time siren sounded.
Josh Jackson, David Klemmer and Michael Lichaa all had heavy workloads in the opening stanza and with no quality ball in good field position, it was something the side hoped would turn around in the second 40.
And turn around it did. The Bulldogs earned a repeat set after Jackson and Trent Hodkinson pushed Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote into touch on a kick return and with a full set in the attacking zone, they made it count.
It was the tackle makers who then combined to open the account with Hodkinson hitting the chest of Jackson who appeared to have been down short of the line but momentum carried the Gulgong junior over to score. Hodkinson converted to close the gap to 12-6 after 51 minutes.
Just two minutes later Cowboys back rower Gavin Cooper made an error, gifting the Bulldogs possession on the half-way line. As the set rolled forward it was a fifth tackle shift that went through the hands of Klemmer, Chase Stanley and then on to Corey Thompson, who showed good footwork to get over to score. Hodkinson smartly converted from out wide to level the score at 12-all.
With the tide looking to turn into the hands of the home side after a couple of Bulldogs errors, the Cowboys were on the attack. With the Bulldogs defence aiming up, it was clearly frustrating the men from North Queensland. With Thurston looking for the shift to the right, former Cowboy Curtis Rona read the pass beautifully and took an intercept, before running 82 metres untouched to score. Hodkinson couldn’t convert on this occasion from out wide on the right with the Bulldogs taking the lead for the first time in the match, 16-12, after 63 minutes.
A Moses Mbye error on the final play of a set gave the home side possession just 40 metres out. It was a full set of scrambling defence but on the final play, Coote took the chance on a short side play and gave it to Cooper, who had the strength to get over Thompson in the left hand corner. With scores level, Thurston had the chance to get his side in front but couldn’t convert, with the score now 16-all with eight minutes remaining.
From the return set, the Cowboys went the length of the field. It was Morgan who sliced them open and ran 50 metres to score and break the hearts of the Bulldogs. It was given the all clear by the video referee and with Thurston converting, the lead was a converted try, 22-16 with just four minutes left on the clock.
A Trent Hodkinson restart didn’t go the required 10 metres, giving the Cowboys a penalty on half-way. A well drilled set was put together and at the end of it, Thurston slotted over a field goal to put the lead out beyond the six points, 23-16.
COWBOYS 23 (Morgan 2, Wright, Cooper Tries; Thurston 3 Goals, Thurston Field Goal)
BULLDOGS 16 (Jackson, Thompson, Rona Tries; Hodkinson 2 Goals)
At: 1300 Smiles Stadium