The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have returned to the winners’ circle in brilliant fashion with an electric 50-16 win over the Warriors in Auckland tonight.
Trailing 16-0 after a horror opening 11 minutes, the Cowboys then piled on the pain for the 10th-placed New Zealand team, racing in 24 points by halftime and going on with the job in the second.
The team’s 16th win, though came at a cost with neck and ankle injuries to James Tamou and Michael Morgan respectively. Both men may miss games after leaving the field in the first half, but the remaining 15 fit players dug deep to break their two-match losing streak and join, temporarily Brisbane atop the competition ladder.
Five tries were scored in the opening 21 minutes as both sides playing open, expansive rugby league in ideal playing conditions despite the earlier threat of rain. There were also some glaring defensive mistakes from both sides in the opening 40.
The Warriors raced in three tries in the opening 11 minutes as halfback Tuimoala Lolohea (fifth minute), winger Ken Maumalo (eighth) and centre Dominique Peyroux (11th) all saluted to givethe Cowboys plenty to think about as the team continues to wrestle with poor starts to matches. Things weren’t helped by an early neck/shoulder injury to representative prop James Tamou. Tamou has a history of neck trouble, so every precaution was taken to assist him from the field, with play stopped for over five minutes.
The Cowboys finally bothered the scoreboard attendant in the 18th minute when winger Kyle Feldt – a late replacement for Matthew Wright – scored in the corner for his 13th NRL try after great lead-up work from Lachlan Coote, Thurston and Michael Morgan, Morgan’s sublime last pass created enough room for Feldt to spectacularly dive and touch down in the corner.
Thurston converted from the sideline and three minutes later sliced through the line to touch down under the posts and then converted to reduce the margin to 16-12 with almost an hour still remaining. But several minutes later, the Cowboys five-eight would injure his ankle to be stretchered off the field joining Tamou as a first-half casualty.
Returning to play, the Cowboys mounted sustained pressure with three repeat sets closing into halftime, pressure which saw the Warriors eventually crack to have Feldt score his fifth career double on the end of a sublime Lachlan Coote cut-out pass.
Thurston again converted from the sideline but the Cowboys weren’t done yet as Coote again throw another money ball for O’Neill to cross. Thurston duly converted and a 16-0 deficit at the 21-minute mark was suddenly a 24-16 lead going into the sheds.
Tamou was taken straight to hospital as a precaution and is expected to travel home with the team tomorrow, while Morgan will have scans tomorrow on an ankle injury.
The start of the second half almost went the way of the first for the visitors with Sam Tomkins crossing the line in the opening set, only to be called back for obstruction.
That near-miss seemed to be the spark the Cowboys needed, for in the 46th minute, forward Ben Spina crossed for his first NRL try after some sublime scrambling play from the Cowboys. Spina is playing in just his fifth NRL game having made his debut in Round 17, 2014 against the Dragons.
Ten minutes after and the Cowbys were in again as debutante Coen hess made his secial night even more special with a try in his first ever NRL game. The teenage backrower dived over to the delight of his teammates.
Feldt crossed for his hat-trick minutes later to cap a brilliant return to the first-grade squad after replacing Matthew Wright in the side. The 104kg winger now has 15 tries in 16 NRL games. Centre Kane Linnett speared through a hole in the 75th minute to almost complete to rout, with O’Neill crossing for his second in the 78th minute for the half-century.
The Cowboys sit on 36 competition points after tonight’s win, the result sure to bring a smile to coach Paul Green’s face as the North Queensland side bounce back from losses to the Sharks and Rabbitohs.
An assignment in Melbourne against the Storm awaits the Cowboys as they look to close out the regular season road games on a high before closing out the home-and-away fixtures by hosting the Titans.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 50 (Kyle Feldt 3, Justin O’Neill 2, Johnathan Thurston, Ben Spina, Coen Hess, Kane Linnett tries; Thurston 7 goals) def NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 16 (Tuimoala Lolohea, Ken Maumalo, Dominique Peyroux tries; Lolohea 2 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Crowd: 14,412.