A late rush of points couldn’t save the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys from another away defeat at Hunter Stadium in Monday Night Football tonight.
Desperate to end a seven-game losing streak, last-placed Newcastle were far too good when it mattered with the 36-28 scoreline flattering the Cowboys who scored three times in the final 11 minutes.
North Queensland, who kept the Knights tryless at home in round five but conceded seven tries tonight, are now 0-7 on their travels this year and remain four points adrift of the top eight with 11 rounds remaining.
They have a quick turnaround before facing South Sydney at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night.
The Cowboys were forced into two changes to the squad named on Tuesday. Curtis Rona came in for Brent Tate (knee) and John Asiata into the 17 for Matt Scott (cheekbone). Rona started on the wing with Matthew Wright taking Tate’s right centre role, while Glenn Hall was promoted to the starting pack. For the Knights, Korbin Sims moved into the starting lineup to replace David Fa'alogo (back). Captain Kurt Gidley shifted into the halves alongside Jarrod Mullen, with Adam Clydsdale starting once again at hooker. Tyrone Roberts was dropped to the bench, alongside Chris Houston, Joseph Tapine and Clint Newton.
It took just three minutes for the Cowboys to open the scoring – Antonio Winterstein collecting the scraps and finding his way over after the Knights fullback Darius Boyd dropped a high ball near his own line.
Johnathan Thurston curled the kick over to put his team 6-0 up.
Unfortunately the good start didn’t last long.
An NQ error 35 metres out from their line – their third in the first 15 minutes – led to the hitback by Newcastle.
The Knights went to the left and ended up with a two-man overlap, allowing Joey Leilua to virtually stroll over for their first try of the night.
They hit the lead in the 22nd minute thanks to a combination of State of Origin rivals.
Blues front-rower Beau Scott pushed off Thurston to break the defensive line and found Queenslander Boyd backing up on his inside.
The Cowboys were forced into an unplanned change when Ray Thompson limped off with a hamstring injury, giving Robert Lui his chance in the halves.
There was another scare when Thurston went down grasping his ankle after being trodden on by a Knights defender – he managed to pick himself up and play on.
It was then Thurston's rival playmaker who added to the Knights’ lead – the Cowboys weren’t able to secure a Jarrod Mullen crosskick and from the next set, Kurt Gidley, back at halfback, slid through with a solo effort from five metres out.
His conversion built Newcastle’s gap to 10.
After Winterstein’s early try, Jason Taumalolo came closest to scoring for NQ when he reached out near the line but lost control just short.
A danger for most of the night, Dane Gagai started the Knights rolling after half time, running 40 metres to score in the 52nd minute.
Gidley added the extras from out wide to make it 22-6.
Almost from the kick off, Newcastle added another.
Boyd went through the defensive line inside his own half way too easily and linked with replacement Tyrone Roberts who beat a diving Thurston for his team’s fifth.
To make it worse for the visitors, with the game just about already decided even though there was half an hour still to go, they were down to two on the bench with hooker Rory Kostjasyn going off clutching at his ribs.
The determination of Tariq Sims saw him pick up a try in the 62nd minute when he managed to spin his way over and Robert Lui, playing at hooker, went from dummy-half to grab four points in the 69th.
However, those tries were cancelled out by the fancy footwork of Gagai close to the line and the power of Akuila Uate who posted the Knights’ seventh and final try inside the final 10 minutes.
There was still time for Lui to snatch a double, although it appeared he didn’t ground the ball successfully, and for Curtis Rona to dive on a Michael Morgan kick into the in-goal.
Backing up from Origin II, James Tamou led the Cowboys with 16 hit-ups for 146 metres while Tariq Sims topped the tackle count with 39, five ahead of Kostjasyn.
Knights: 1. Darius Boyd, 2. James McManus, 3. Dane Gagai, 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Akuila Uate, 6. Jarrod Mullen, 9. Kurt Gidley (c), 15. Korbin Sims, 14. Adam Clydsdale, 10. Willie Mason, 11. Beau Scott, 12. Robbie Rochow, 13. Jeremy Smith. Interchange: 7. Tyrone Roberts, 17. Chris Houston, 18. Joseph Tapine, 19. Clint Newton.
Cowboys: 1. Michael Morgan 2. Matthew Wright 20. Curtis Rona 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Johnathan Thurston 7. Ray Thompson 15. Glenn Hall 9. Rory Kostjasyn 10. James Tamou 11. Ethan Lowe 12. Tariq Sims 13. Scott Bolton. Interchange: 14. Robert Lui 16. Ashton Sims 17. Jason Taumalolo 24. John Asiata
Cowboys 28 (Lui 2, Winterstein, Sims, Rona tries; Thurston 4 goals)
Knights 36 (Gagai 2, Leilua, Boyd, Gidley, Roberts, Uate tries; Gidley 4 goals)