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Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung /

The defending champions at the NRL Auckland Nines find themselves in the same position after day one of the 2015 tournament as they were 12 months ago.

One win and one defeat leaves the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys with their fate in their own hands entering their final Waiheke pool game tomorrow against winless Penrith.

The equations are a little bit complex but will become clearer once their other group rivals – South Sydney and Melbourne – meet in the first of the third-round encounters on Sunday morning.

A win by the unbeaten Bunnies would leave the Cowboys needing just a win – or possibly even a narrow loss – against Penrith to move to the last eight, while a Storm success could bring even more for and against scenarios into play.

North Queensland will enter day two injury-free with both rookie Coen Hess and fellow forward Ben Spina yet to see game time after sitting out the first day.

Making his first appearance in Cowboys colours, Justin O’Neill claimed three tries on the opening day as North Queensland beat his former club Melbourne 17-8 followed by a 19-12 loss to reigning NRL premiers South Sydney.

O’Neill’s first touch saw him catch an expertly placed kick out wide from Robert Lui to score before Matt Wright added the conversion from out wide.

The Cowboys kicked further clear with a bonus point try to back-rower Ethan Lowe, again converted by Wright.

Trailing 13-0 at the break after running into an imposing Cowboys defensive wall, Melbourne climbed back into the contest via a try to Kurt Mann.

However, the win was sealed when Wright touched down in the right corner.

Hymel Hunt’s late try cut the winning margin to nine.

The clash between the reigning Nines champs and the current NRL premiers was one of the best of the day and finished three tries apiece, with the Rabbitohs turning around a 12-6 half-time deficit to win 19-12.

Two of the Bunnies’ tries were suspect, especially the bonus pointer to English prop George Burgess, from close to the line, that gave them a 13-12 lead following the conversion.

In the first half, ex-Cowboy Chris Grevsmuhl gained the nod from referee Alan Shortball when he barged over the line and appeared to be held up by desperate Cowboys defence.

Adam Reynolds added the extras from out wide before North Queensland scored the next three tries, all unconverted, to go 12-6 up.

A bat back from Kyle Feldt created the opener to captain Gavin Cooper and O’Neill gained his second for the day thanks to an angled run and pass by Robert Lui.

The winger’s next try came soon after as the Cowboys dominated possession.

Souths kept the titleholders scoreless in the second half to end North Queensland’s four-game winning streak at Eden Park and take a big step towards the quarter-finals.

The killer blow was a try to Matt King, that Reynolds converted, in the set after a Cowboys error trying to field a kick in-goal.

Game 1: Cowboys 17 (E Lowe bonus try; J O'Neill, M Wright try; M Wright 2/3 goals) def. Storm 8 (K Mann, H Hunt try; C Munster 0/2 goals)

Game 2: Rabbitohs 19 (G Burgess bonus try; C Grevsmuhl, M King tries; A Reynolds 3/3 goals) def. Cowboys 12 (G Cooper, J O'Neill 2 tries; M Wright 0/3 goals)

STANDINGS: Rabbitohs 4 points (+14 for and against); Storm 2 points (+7), Cowboys 2 points (+2), Panthers 0 points (-23).

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.