The buoyant Toyota Cowboys completed an impressive NRL pre-season campaign by downing the Gold Coast Titans 28-12 at Clive Berghofer Stadium in Toowoomba tonight.
Fresh off their victory in the NRL Auckland Nines last weekend, the Cowboys introduced three of their Kangaroos – co-captains Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston and Brent Tate – to on-field action for the first time in 2014 and they all played big minutes in a five tries to two win.
Thurston was at his creative best and was only replaced three minutes from full time, while Scott and Tate were also able to make significant contributions to help boost North Queensland’s confidence even further ahead of the round one meeting against Canberra.
It was the Cowboys’ second win against Queensland opposition in an 80-minute trial this pre-season, following on from the victory against Brisbane at Redcliffe, and they came through the contest largely injury-free to leave an even bigger smile on head coach Paul Green’s face.
With Lachlan Coote sidelined, Michael Morgan wore the No.1 jersey for the first time for the Cowboys and had a superb night to show he is a definite option at fullback, while the man who replaced him at the back for the last 20 minutes, Zac Santo, again showed off his speed, evasiveness and ability under the high ball to give Green a quandary over who to choose to face the Raiders.
The Cowboys’ run-on 13, which featured Ray Thompson at starting hooker and a backline almost identical to last year’s finals series, played for the first 20 minutes and Green made minimal changes until early in the second half when he dipped deeper into his seven-man bench.
A confident Morgan, who had earlier busted two tackles running back a high ball, featured in the lead-up to the opening try, sending Antonio Winterstein on a long run down the left flank.
On the next play, a well flighted Thurston crosskick was batted back by Kyle Feldt to Tariq Sims who crossed 10m in from the right sideline.
After benefiting from back-to-back penalties, the Titans hit back courtesy of a Greg Bird try adjacent to the posts in the 21st minute but when second-rower Jason Taumalolo charged on to a Thurston short ball 20 metres out, stepped off his left foot and scored untouched under the posts in the 36th minute, the Cowboys took control.
Continuing his strong start to the year, Taumalolo churned out 73 minutes before being rested, indicating he is ready for a bigger role with the Cowboys pack in 2014.
Interchange forward Glenn Hall added to NQ’s lead early in the second half by barging over from close range before Mark Ioane cashed in for the Titans under the posts to reduce the lead to four.
The Cowboys dominated territory for long periods of the second half and eventually made it across for the fourth time via winger Antonio Winterstein, off a Santo wide ball, and Morgan, now playing in the halves, bobbed up for the final try, created by Thurston, in the final 10 minutes.
North Queensland Toyota Cowboys 28 (T Sims, Taumalolo, Hall, Winterstein, Morgan tries; Thurston 4 goals) def Titans 12 (Bird, Ioane tries; Sezer 2 goals) at Clive Berghofer Oval, Toowoomba. Crowd: 8,532.