• The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys players and coaching staff are having a well-earned break this weekend as the club has its second allocated bye of the 2015 National Rugby League season. The playing group earned the praise of head coach Paul Green following their classy 18-12 round 17 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons at WIN Stadium, Wollongong, with the second-year NRL mentor pleased at how well-placed the team is heading into the last third of the season. The Cowboys are outright second on the ladder with 12 wins from 16 games, and will move to 28 competition points following the completion of round 18. The Cowboys won five of six matches during the traditionally treacherous State of Origin period, and were victorious on the two occasions – against Wests Tigers in round 11 and at the weekend in Wollongong – when the club’s Origin contingent wasn’t available for club duties. Their only loss in that period came against the Sharks in round 16 with star halfback Johnathan Thurston rested for the game. The players are due to resume training on Wednesday, July 15 in preparation for their round 19 Monday night match against the Sea Eagles in Brookvale.
• The Cowboys were praised for their win over the Dragons for several reasons. Firstly, that they concocted a high-quality win without Origin quartet Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Michael Morgan and James Tamou was seen as a major achievement. Minus their first-choice halves and starting props, the replacement Cowboys performed admirably as Ray Thompson and Robert Lui steered the side around the park while big boppers Ben Hannant and Scott Bolton led the way in the forwards. Secondly, the manner of the win was lauded. Rather than bank on flashes of individual brilliance, the Cowboys used percentage play and field position to manufacture a famous victory. Lui and fullback Lachlan Coote did the majority of the open-play kicking, and did a masterful job of pinning the Dragons outside backs deep in their own territory. Running-wise, the Cowboys got plenty from their forwards, while centre Kane Linnett – shifted on to the wing in the second half following a pectoral injury to Antonio Winterstein – was sublime in running for 276m. Thirdly, North Queensland again showed how to win on the road, with the win over the Dragons the seventh victory in eight games away from 1300SMILES Stadium this season. The team are in fact seven from seven when playing in New South Wales/ACT this year, their only away loss coming against the Broncos in Round 2. So impressed with the win were Big League magazine that no fewer than three Cowboys – Linnett, hooker Jake Granville and backrower Jason Taumalolo – were named in their round 17 Team of the Week.
• Taumalolo backed up from a big effort against the Dragons with a rare live Cowboys appearance on Channel Nine’s Sunday Footy Show. Logistics and the tyranny of distance make it hard for Cowboys players to appear on the program, but the planets aligned at the weekend, and by all accounts Big Jase was a natural on the panel. It was a busy Sunday morning in Sydney prior to the team flying home, as, aside from Taumalolo on The Footy Show, veteran forward Gavin Cooper was whisked to NRL headquarters in the morning to do some filming for the NRL’s upcoming Heritage Round (round 19), where the Sea Eagles will host the Cowboys at Brookvale Oval on Monday, July 20.
• Away from the NRL squad, others in the Cowboys larger squad have been busy this week. National Youth Competition trio Coen Hess, Gideon Gela-Mosby and Conor Carey played for the Queensland under-20s team against New South Wales in a State of Origin curtain-raiser at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday. While the Blues were too strong for the young Maroons – winning 32-16 - Hess was one of Queensland’s best, while Gela-Mosby scored a try. In Wollongong, seven members of the Cowboys’ Elite Pathway Program – Enari Tuala (Townsville), Reuben Cotter (Sarina), Jack Lote (Brisbane), Kurt Wiltshire (Rockhampton), Jake Clifford (Townsville), Jacob Bourke (Townsville) and Duarne Demspey (Townsville) – were in the Queensland teams to contest the 2015 Australian Secondary Schools Championships 18 Years Championships. The Queensland team had a narrow loss (18-16 to New South Wales Combined Catholic Colleges) and a narrow win (22-20 over NSW Combined High Schools) in their two pool games and played the Catholic Colleges again in the semi-final, where they lost 24-20.