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Photo: Colin Whelan ©

The NYC Cowboys threatened to produce another stunning second-half comeback before losing 32-16 against unbeaten Newcastle in their round five under-20s match at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.

Down 22-0 at half time, North Queensland, who had debutants Michael Barclay and Coen Hess in their forward pack, fought back to just six points down before two late tries sealed the ladder-leading Knights’ fifth-straight victory.

The Cowboys were chasing their first back-to-back wins of the season after coming from 16 points down to beat the Titans by two last Monday night, but they suffered from another poor start, conceding two relatively soft tries in the opening 10 minutes to fall 10-0 behind.

Centre Sione Mata’utia climbed uncontested to take a crosskick for the first try and hooker Daniel Levi was allowed to touch down under the posts from dummy-half for their second.

The Cowboys twice gifted the Knights sets on their goal line with errors at the back and they cashed in almost directly from the second mistake, fullback Jake Mamo crossing from the resulting scrum to build the lead to 16 with the conversion.

The home team’s best period of the half didn’t produce any points, although skipper Jack Kelleher almost crashed through, losing possession just as a try beckoned.

Newcastle eventually made it 22-0 via Mata’utia, who was a constant menace on the left side of the Knights attack.

With a big contingent of family and friends from Mt Isa cheering him on, Hess made an early impression on his debut, breaking through the heart of the Newcastle defence in the final 10 minutes of the half only to have his pass that could have set up a Cowboys try ruled forward.

Barclay also made good metres when he was given his chance off the bench, proving he wasn’t out of place at NYC level.

The impact the rookies were producing in general play finally told on the scoreboard when Hess bustled over under the posts for the Cowboys first four-pointer in the 47th minute and another first-year forward, Bill Cullen, continued the comeback with a try in the 53rd minute.

Alex Grant converted both to reduce the gap to 22-12.

With their confidence growing, the Cowboys made it a real contest with 15 to go when winger Scott Schulte capitalised on a break by halfback Delayne Ashby to cut the gap to six, but a try to second-rower Joseph Tapine ended the fightback inside the final eight minutes.

The Knights added a sixth try before full time to blow out the winning margin to 16 and drop North Queensland to 12th on the ladder.

Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.