A record Intrust Super Cup crowd of 4390 watched the Northern Pride complete a season double against the PNG Hunters with a 36-18 win at Barlow Park on Sunday.
Contracted Toyota Cowboys Kyle Feldt and Javid Bowen scored for the Cairns team in the first half to set up an 18-6 lead at half time and their clubmate Hezron Murgha, in his best game since his comeback from knee surgery, added another try early in the second 40 to continue the momentum.
The situation became even more dire for PNG when a Sheldon Powe-Hobbs break led to a try for Shaun Nona.
However, the Hunters, spurred on by the majority of the crowd, managed to claw back thanks to explosive 20-year-old winger Gary Lo who crossed three times in five frenetic minutes, taking his total for the match to four, as the Pride started to rock.
An epic comeback was not to be as Pride skipper Jason Roos set up man-of-the-match Blake Leary to almost exactly match the scoreline when the teams met at Kalabond Oval in round four.
The victory maintained the Pride’s five-point lead at the top of the ISC ladder with a catch-up game against Easts to play this Saturday night in Mareeba.
“Today had the potential to go wrong for us,” Pride coach Jason Demetriou told the Cairns Post.
“They had lost their last two so we knew they’d be hungry in front of a big crowd, but I was happy with how our boys took to the challenge.”
Meanwhile, the Mackay Cutters continued their recent resurgence by beating Norths 28-4 at Stadium Mackay on Saturday despite having one just one Cowboy, Zac Santo, in their lineup.
Their third win in a row lifted the reigning premiers to 10th, five points outside the top five.
"It's just a willingness of all our players to work with each other,” coach Kim Williams said of his team’s magic June.
“We've had some new players come into the team and some guys who've been here for a while getting out there and making the most of opportunities.
“I think the key to a successful team is that they are all willing to put in for each other and we are certainly at that point now, and it's been good to watch.”
Playing at fullback, Santo scored one of the Cutters’ five tries.
The Cutters will look to continue their winning streak in round 19 with another home game against the Burleigh Bears.
MACKAY CUTTERS 28 (Chris Ulugia 2, Brent Warr 2, Zac Santo tries; Liam Taylor 4 goals) def NORTHS DEVILS 4 (Lachlan Maranta try) at Stadium Mackay.
NORTHERN PRIDE 36 (Blake Leary 2, Hezron Murgha, Kyle Feldt, Javid Bowen, Shaun Nona, Tyrone McCarthy tries; Shaun Nona 4 goals) def PNG HUNTERS 18 (Garry Lo 4 tries; Noel Zemming goal) at Barlow Park.