Potentially serious injuries to two players soured the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys’ 42-10 win against reigning premiers Sydney Roosters in co-captain Johnathan Thurston’s 200th club appearance at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.
Second-rower Gavin Cooper was taken to hospital after dislocating his hip in the second half, while interchange hooker Cameron King came off with a knee injury that will require scans early in the week.
Centre Kane Linnett crossed for a hat-trick of tries in his team’s third straight victory – all at home – to level up their win-loss record at 5-5 heading into the State of Origin period.
The No.6 showdown between Thurston and Roosters star Sonny-Bill Williams ended up in a clear points win for the Cowboys champion who again was outstanding off the back of a fantastic effort from his forwards.
Injuries cost Jason Taumalolo (ankle) and Ray Thompson (knee) their places in the Cowboys squad. Scott Bolton came into the starting team to replace Taumalolo and Robert Lui was again Johnathan Thurston’s halves partner. Antonio Winterstein returned from injury on the left wing. The Roosters were 1-17 after losing Mitchell Pearce to a one-game suspension.
On a breezy Townsville night, the Cowboys took the kick off, rumbled down field and scored after 70 seconds thanks to Roosters winger Daniel Tupou misjudging a Robert Lui bomb.
The Cowboys immediately spread the ball to the left after he came off Tupou’s foot and Kane Linnett crossed for his fourth try in three games – the final verdict coming from the video referees.
North Queensland’s defence faced a huge test after the kick off with four straight Roosters sets to fight back off before an obstruction penalty ended the threat.
The next score came off Thurston’s boot as he added two to his club point-scoring record with a penalty goal to make it 8-0.
The Cowboys started the round scoring more tries from kicks than any other team and they added another before the midway point of the half with Tariq Sims taking another bouncing high ball before swan-diving over the line.
It wasn’t long before Linnett had his double, cashing in on the fine lead-up work of Rory Kostjasyn out of dummy-half and Thurston, who fired a pinpoint pass over the top to his centre.
After racing to an 18-0 lead in as many minutes, the Cowboys conceded a try against the run of play to Anthony Minichiello, who broke away down the left and then popped up on the right wing a tackle later to touch down.
With his side a perfect 12 from 12 in possession, Thurston’s second penalty of the half restored the lead to more than two converted tries.
By the break, the advantage was 24.
JT grabbed a try in his 200th in a play that featured a Michael Morgan grubber kick and a bat back by Brent Tate who had been down clutching his knee only minutes earlier.
In the 40th minute, Matthew Wright beat two defenders in a short run to the line, after taking a Tate tap over the top, for the Cowboys’ fourth try of the half.
JT kicked the conversion from the sideline for a personal tally of 14 points in the opening 40.
The Cowboys looked like going on with the job after the break when they regained the kick off and then thumped away at the Roosters line for almost all of the next eight minutes.
To their credit, the premiers repelled everything, Tariq Sims coming the closest to adding to the 24-point buffer.
After losing Cooper, the Cowboys eventually broke through for the first time in the second 40 via centre Brent Tate on the hour-mark.
Linnett completed his first career hat-trick with seven to go to extend the lead to 36.
The Roosters' only reply came from Daniel Mortimer who backed up a break and kick ahead of Roger Tuivasa-Scheck on full time.
The Cowboys completed an astounding 38 of 40 sets of possession (95%), with Matt Scott almost reaching the magical 200-metre mark in attack for the second straight week.
The bulk of his 197 metres came in the second half while his Kangaroos front-row teammate put together a double of 140 metres with a team-high 25 tackles.
Tuivasa-Scheck was put on report for a high tackle on Linnett, while the Roosters had Test forward Bryce Cordner limp off and not return for the second 40.
COWBOYS: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Matthew Wright, 3 Brent Tate, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Johnathan Thurston (c), 20 Robert Lui, 8 Matt Scott (c), 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 James Tamou, 11 Gavin Cooper, 17 Scott Bolton, 13 Tariq Sims. Interchange: 14 Cameron King, 15 Ethan Lowe, 16 Ashton Sims, 18 Glenn Hall.
ROOSTERS: 1. Anthony Minichiello 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Michael Jennings 4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 5. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 6. Sonny Bill Williams 7. James Maloney 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Sam Moa 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Mitchell Aubusson 13. Aidan Guerra. Interchange: 14. Daniel Mortimer 15. Frank Paul Nuuausala 16. Isaac Liu 17. Dylan Napa.
COWBOYS 42 (Kane Linnett 3, Tariq Sims, Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate, Matt Wright tries; Johnathan Thurston 7 goals)
ROOSTERS 10 (Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Mortimer tries; James Maloney 1 goal)