Game of two halves
North Queensland Toyota Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott has been given a 200th National Rugby League game to remember as his side came home with a wet sail to steamroll the Canberra Raiders 32-24 at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.
Down 18-4 at half-time and only completing at just over 50 per cent of their sets in that period, the Cowboys showed great defensive steel in the second 40 to keep the Raiders scoreless until the final minute of the game, while running in 28 unanswered points spearheaded by a double to winger Antonio Winterstein.
The victory marks the second over the Raiders this year after the round 15 21-20 thriller in Canberra and the North Queensland team are now 34 competition points with 15 wins from 19 matches this season.
As coach Paul Green acknowledged, the match – played in front of 16,207 fans – was a ‘game of two halves’ in which the Cowboys’ high error rates and lack of urgency defending their line combined to see the visitors holding an 18-6 lead at half-time as fullback Jack Wighton, winger Edrick Lee and backrower Sia Soliola crossed, the Raiders hammering the Cowboys down the right defensive edge. A Jarrod Croker penalty late in the half had the Raiders 18-0 up before Cowboys five-eighth Michael Morgan did his trademark slice-through angled run to put the Cowboys on the scoreboard on the stroke of half-time.
The break proved a godsend for the Cowboys, and after returning to the field, the entire group of 17 showed a renewed commitment in defence and greater determination to hold on to the ball.
After completing nine of 16 sets in the first half, the Cowboys went 17 from 20 in the second as the team found its attacking mojo on the back of greater possession. That they put on 28 unanswered points was a testament to their improved ball security and whenever co-captain and playmaker Johnathan Thurston had the ball in good field position, the Cowboys looked an attacking threat.
That threat soon turned into points as Winterstein (two tries), Gavin Cooper and Jake Granville scored in a four-try burst in 17 minutes to seal the game for the Cowboys. A last-minute try to utility Kurt Baptiste was merely consolation as North Queensland secured a fourth straight win and eighth triumph from 10 matches at 1300SMILES Stadium.
For Scott, who made his debut for the Cowboys in 2004, the win was all the sweeter given that the team had lost his three previous milestone matches. He walked out on to the field with young son Hugo in a fitting and emotional tribute to his service to the club, of which he will now be made a life member.
After two consecutive home matches, the team hits the road again for a round 22 encounter against the Sharks.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 32 (Antonio Winterstein 2, Gavin Cooper, Jake Granville, Michael Morgan tries; Johnathan Thurston 4 goals, 2 pen. goals) def CANBERRA RAIDERS 24 (Jack Wighton, Edrick Lee, Sia Soliola, Kurt Baptiste tries; Jarrod Croker 3 goals, 1 pen. goal) at 1300SMILES STADIUM. Crowd: 16,207.